Here's Some Housing Growth — Tent Cities for the Desperate

Washington, District of Columbia. Tent life of...
Image by David C. Foster via Flickr

The name is Pinellas Hope, a tent city of 250 run by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. It costs $2.6 million a year to run and will not accept families. It offers three free meals a day, and has washers and dryers, even Internet access. The average length of stay is now 77 days — and a third of its residents, typically the chronic homeless, are now economic refugees, those who’ve simply run out of options in this recession. Florida has the highest rate of home foreclosures in the nation, with 300,000 standing empty. Pinellas Hope has a waiting list of 150.

It’s one of many such “cities” springing up around the U.S. as the formerly middle class, men and women, some of whom once owned their own homes and all of whom went to work every day, hit bottom. Here’s a Wall Street Journal story today about one in Nashville.

Today, on BBC World News, reporter James Gordon interviewed Kevin Stutt, a former waiter who has been out of work since September and who now lives in a tent at Pinellas Hope. He described his job search as “terrible” and says he has sent out 250 applications. On the rare occasion he gets an interview, he told BBC:

“I have nice clothes. I go to job interviews as if I’m still living with my wife in Seminole. Nobody can tell by looking at me I just slithered out of a tent.”

These new neighborhoods springing up across the U.S. are the essence of desperation. They may not be in your backyard — or yet, as Hoovervilles once stood, in Central Park — but they’re a visible, terrifying reminder what can happen next if you lose your final grasp of the economy’s bottom rung. Here’s a New York Times profile of one tent city in Fresno.

A 2006 film, The Pursuit of Happyness, starred Will Smith as Chris Gardner (based on his true-life Horatio Alger story), reduced to homelessness who regains much of his former life, even while homeless, winning a well-paid job at investment firm. All of which now looks even more like a fantasy — a struggling African-American man able to scramble back up the ladder, the financial industry his instrument of salvation.

As columnist Bob Herbert writes in today’s New York Times:

“the economic ship is still sinking…The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.” The official jobless rate lowered, he writes, “not because more people found jobs but because 450,000 people withdrew from the labor market. They stopped looking, so they weren’t counted as unemployed.”

More than five million workers — about a third of the unemployed — have been jobless for more than six months. That’s the highest number recorded since accurate records have been kept.”

Gives tarp a new meaning.