October 2000 Issue of street roots

We Need a Tent City

Editorial by Jack Tafari

Winter will soon be upon us, homeless people, and it is time to begin thinking about getting ourselves a sanctioned campsite. Sleeping in doorways, under bridges and in parking lots, concealing ourselves in shrubbery in parks and in back yards, this is not so bad on warm, dry summer nights. But shivering all night in a TPI blanket under the marquee of the Guild Theater in February is not nice at all. Seattle has a tent city. Los Angeles had one fourteen years ago called Justiceville and it evolved into Dome Village. Portland needs a tent city now.

The missions are not an option for many of us. The missions are crowded and the lines are long. Many of us prefer sleeping on the streets to the sanctimony we often encounter in the missions, many find the missions too regulated and New Testament Christianity is not everyone's religion.

Not that the missions do not provide some good services. They provide clothing for those who need them. They provide showers which, though woefully inadequate for those who work, are often the only showers many of us are able to get. And they feed a lot of hungry people. But many of us resent the force-fed humble piety that often goes along with the meal. Often it seems that the missions create a kind of dependency, a client/provider cycle that many homeless people seem to get stuck in and never seem able to break.

A sanctioned campsite would provide a place where we could store our things, it would give us a break from the constant hassle and harassment we get living on the streets. We could regulate our campsite ourselves. Once we had that break we could go about our business, deal with whatever we have to deal with. It is not easy getting and holding a job when you live on the streets. The respite a campsite would give us would allow us all to improve our livity and condition, it would allow some of us to get the steady jobs that would get us up out of homelessness.

Street dwellers in India do not push around shopping carts with their belongings in them. They have dharamshalas, campsites where they keep their things and get on with their lives. It is the same in Rio where people who would otherwise be homeless have their favellas, on the outskirts of Capetown in South Africa people have their Crossroads. Homelessness is a Third World feature that has attached itself to a developed country and it is not going away. Other cities in this country have their sanctioned sites. Portland needs a sanctioned tent city now.

We need showers open between 6 am and 6 pm like the ones at Compass Center in Seattle where working homeless people have a greater window of opportunity to get a daily shower. We will get these in time if we work toward getting them ourselves. We need a lot of things. But first we need a sanctioned campsite.

We at street roots are just now putting together a campaign for a sanctioned site. Let us capture a piece of fallow ground if necessary and hold it for ourselves for doesn't the Bible say that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof? We urge all homeless people and activists interested in getting a sanctioned campsite to drop by the street roots office or to phone us at 228-5657.