As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Depressing Stability Of Bushvilles

I first wrote about an Ontario-area Bushville, a tent city of foreclosed Americans, almost a year ago. At that time, it became too big to sustain itself, as people from across the country moved to the tent city to live. The city required that only residents of Ontario be allowed to stay.

Now there's an even larger Bushville rising in Sacramento, on practically the same spot as a Hooverville in the 1930s. From The New York Times:

A tent city is burgeoning in Sacramento, Calif., prompting local officials to consider whether such an encampment should be made permanent, with plumbing and all.

The primitive settlement sits in the shadow of the state capitol and is home to about 300 people who have no toilets or running water, creating unsanitary conditions that advocacy groups worry could promote diseases like cholera. With the downturn in the economy and more working-class people losing their jobs and their homes, the tent city is expanding [...]

This tent city is in a place of great natural beauty, between two rivers, with birds and open sky and a relatively mild climate. Homeless people have lived there for years, largely unseen, but as more working class people move in, the tents are multiplying and becoming harder to ignore.

The official count of homeless people in Sacramento is 1,226 people, and they are spilling out to the tent city because the housing shelters are full; one of the shelters is turning away more than 200 women and children a day.

Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this is that 10% of rental housing units in Sacramento, and almost 5% of owned units, are VACANT. We have nobody in the houses and people living in the tents by the river. And yet the housing owned by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency is maxed out. It's very upside-down.

I agree with Charles Lemos that this is a test of our humanity and values as a people. Fortunately, the generosity of ordinary people is extending beyond the policymakers. Since a story on the tent city appeared on Oprah and the Today show, donations have been pouring in. Portable toilets and a dumpster have been installed.

But that's a temporary solution. While $2.3 million is coming into Sacramento to deal with homelessness through the federal stimulus package, that's not going to be enough if foreclosures continue to rise. In February, the number of homes threatened went up 30% year-over-year and up 6% since January, despite several large banks agreeing to a temporary moratorium. Five of the top seven areas for foreclosures are in California - Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Riverside-San Bernardino and Bakersfield. While the first wave of subprime failures has already occurred, with unemployment still soaring we are starting to see unemployment-based foreclosures as a second wave. So I don't see any letup anytime soon, and Sacramento is going to have to meet this challenge of dealing with the wreckage of the Bush regime.

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