Is It a Good Idea to Give Tents to Homeless People?

One of the ongoing debates in Southern California, where homelessness has reach epidemic proportions, is over providing homeless people with tents. Indeed, providing homeless people with tents is proving to be one of the most passionately debated issues associated with addressing homelessness in communities that include Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Orange county, and Riverside.

The Debate Over Giving Tents to Homeless People

The debate over giving tents to homeless people can be simplified as a joust between those who support giving tents and those who are opposed to such action. In reality, the essential debate about the propriety of giving homeless people tents is far more nuanced.

When it comes to individuals opposed to providing homeless people tents, some argue that taking this course makes homeless individuals less apt to seek permanent housing solutions. Other individuals who oppose giving tents to homeless people maintain that doing so provides governmental agencies with less motivation to assist in finding permanent housing for homeless people.

A homeless advocate summed this up: “What’s cruel and inhumane is to allow people to remain in these tents. What’s cruel is to continue to allow people to deteriorate and die on our streets.”

These two arguments on the “anti-tent” side of the argument underscore why and how the debate is nuanced. These arguments come from people who have different views of the homeless situation.

On the one hand, there are people who feel that homeless people aren’t taking enough responsibility for their plight. On the other hand, there are individuals who include advocates for homeless people who feel governmental agencies are not doing enough to address chronic homelessness.

Those who favor giving homeless people tents contend that, in many cases, there are no other alternatives. Others who advocate for giving homeless people tents maintain that doing so will motivate other residents of a community, together with elected officials, to develop meaningful, lasting solutions to address the issue chronic homeless. For example, when people come face to face with homelessness, they arguably become more willing to take steps to resolve the issue – even if the motivation is self-serving (getting homeless tents out of their neighborhoods once and for all).

Government Sponsored Tent Cities

A trio of cities in Orange County planned to erect tent cities or camps to provide shelter in different locations for homeless people the city removed from the area around the Santa Ana River. The county spent over 10 years in legal battles to remove approximately 1,000 homeless campers along the Santa Ana River. As part of reaching an agreement in court, Orange County agreed to take specific steps to provide permanent housing for these evicted campers.

As a means of transitioning to a permanent solution, the County made plans to use tents in three cities in the county to shelter people removed from the river site. The cities objected strenuously to the placement of county-created homeless tent cities within their boundaries.

In the final analysis, the objections from municipalities in regard to tent cities spurred the county to allocate more money to increase the pace at which people who had been camping along the river are moved into permanent housing.

Sprung Shelters: Giant Tents for Homeless People

Another strategy being undertaken as a means to address chronic homelessness is the utilization of what are known as sprung shelters. Sprung shelters are in reality very large tents that are designed to house upwards to 200 people. Sprung shelters are seen by some as an alternative to the more controversial proposal of providing homeless people with individual tents.

Sprung shelters are pop-up structures. Unlike structures (even tents) in homeless encampments, sprung shelters are sponsored by governmental agencies or private organizations that work with the homeless. They have some of the attributes of a permanent homeless shelter.

For example, many sprung shelters have what re known as navigators. These are employees or volunteers that assist people who stay in a sprung shelter in accessing other resources to end the cycle of homelessness. In the final analysis, the goal with sprung shelters – these giant tents – is to stabilize homeless people and get them on a pathway to permanent housing solutions.

Sprung shelters have not been without controversy. Objections are strong within neighborhoods that have been identified as sites for sprung shelters. Volunteers of America in Los Angeles has started to examine using sprung shelters in their overall efforts to assist homeless people. The sprung shelter programs in California are being modeled after similar efforts that have been undertaken over the course of the past decade in Southern states.