Rising unemployment and widespread foreclosures have left many homeless and living in tents and makeshift huts in cities around the nation. It’s a scene not seen since the “Hoovervilles” of the Great Depression. In Reno, Nevada, the homeless have pitched tents downtown next to fancy hotels, casinos and restaurants.
Some members of the tent city say they came to Reno looking for work in the casinos, but even the gaming industry is cutting back.
Reno has a limited number of beds in its homeless shelters, and people can stay only 2 weeks. Even fleabag motels cost about $200 a week, a cost far beyond the reach of many of the newly homeless.
Reno is built on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, at about 4,500 feet. It starts to get cold this time of year, and the city can receive significant snowfall. City and local charities need to work fast to get residents of the new tent city out of the cold. Nevada has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.
But that downbeat economic indicator hasn’t stopped job seekers. Earlier this week, a casino in Las Vegas received about 25,000 applications for 1,000 jobs. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 61% of local and state homeless coalitions report a spike in homelessness since foreclosures began to climb in 2007.
No region of the country is immune. In Seattle, homeless encampments are popping up in a number of neighborhoods, including on the fringes of high-class, high-rise construction sites. A quick Internet search turns up news reports of similar tent cities emerging in Santa Barbara, Fresno, and San Diego, California; Portland, Oregon; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Columbus, Ohio - you name it.
There are no definitive statistics on how many people have been made homeless by the economic downturn, but here’s hoping no jobseekers freeze to death in tents while officials in Reno and cities across the nation try to figure out what to do next.
So far, all efforts to help the newly homeless appear to be piecemeal and local. Clearly, no one anticipated this. Most cities are strapped for cash as tax revenue falls, and can't afford to launch a publicly funded park-school-municipal building clean-up, even if they wanted to.
But cheer up: So far, no one his pitched a tent near Wall Street’s bronze bull in Lower Manhattan.