U.S. markets fall, tent cities rise

City agencies expect modern shantytowns to keep growing

Hoovervilles sprang up across the U.S. in the 1930s, built out of cloth, boxwood, cardboard or scraps of metal and named after Herbert Hoover and his policies during the Great Depression. And while there are no such settlements named after George W. Bush’s administration, tent cities are again sprouting up across the United States as the economy worsens.

A number of American centres have documented the problem, including Baltimore, Reno, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Fresno and Seattle. One of the larger settlements is in Ontario, Calif., about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles. There, about 140 people live in tents, motorhomes, trucks and cars, next to the Los Angeles International Airport. The population numbered about 400 in March, but authorities decided the settlement was too large and unmanageable and ejected about half of the residents, towing away vehicles and motorhomes.

Unlike many urban centres with tent cities, Ontario has tried to support the inhabitants, investing $3 million to deal with the homeless. Church groups donate tents, tarps and clothing, and distribute packaged food and bottled water. Local authorities have installed water taps, portable showers and toilets (although they tend to topple and spill in high winds). Authorities have even hired veterinarians to spray and neuter people’s dogs, although some residents have complained that similar medical care is not available for their human owners. At night, people kept warm by burning garbage. City agencies don’t expect these modern day shantytowns to disappear any time soon: few jobs, mounting foreclosures and higher gas and food bills means homelessness in the U.S. is on the rise.