Homeless encampments are appearing across Los Angeles County. Indeed, the head of the Union Rescue Mission recently noted that they are found not only in more economically deprived parts of the county but in affluent neighborhoods as well. He noted that the fact that you can see homeless encampments in the Palisades underscores the breadth of the homelessness problem in the city and county.
A resident of Los Angeles likely has a variety of questions and associated concerns about homeless encampments. These undoubtedly include questions about what a homeless encampment is and what life is like in a homeless encampment.
What is a Homeless Encampment?
In order to fully understand what is meant by the commonly used term “homeless encampment,” it is important to break the phrase down into its component parts. First, the term homeless refers to an individual who lacks the financial wherewithal to maintain a residence. Thus, such an individual is left finding alternative means of trying to meet the essential human need for shelter.
Encampment, when associated with the homeless population, refers to a situation in which more than one homeless individual comes together to set up a shelter in a common area. A frequently seen type of encampment of this nature in Los Angeles typically consists of faux tents (improvised “tents” made of things like blankets), lean-tos made of cardboard, and even actual tents.
A homeless encampment may consist of a few individuals. On the other hand, there have been homeless encampments made up of 100 or more individuals. This includes men, women, and children.
Homeless encampments can also rise in dilapidated buildings, under freeway overpasses, and even on sidewalks when multiple homeless people cluster together next to or near buildings and other structures.
Who Lives in Homeless Encampments?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies the homeless population in the country, including in Los Angeles, into two broad categories:
Sheltered homeless individuals are people that live in homeless shelters or transitional housing. Unsheltered homes individuals are people living in a place not meant for human habitation. These places include:
- Motor vehicles
- Vacant buildings
- Freeway underpasses
As mentioned previously, when more than one individual, or a family unit, come together in a space not meant for human habitation, that is generally considered to be a homeless encampment.
Day to Day Life in a Homeless Encampment
There are a number of factors to bear in mind to better understand what life is like in a homeless encampment. Some people not particularly well versed about homelessness and homeless encampments likely develop an array of misconceptions about this type of “living” situation.
Chief among these misconceptions is that life in a homeless encampment provides homeless people some sort of positive sense of community. In addition, there is a misconception that by banding together, homeless people enhance their own sense of security. In fact, day to day life in a homeless encampment is fraught with peril, in most cases.
Unhealthy Encampment Conditions
A primary feature of living in a homeless encampment is exposure to unhealthy conditions. People living in homeless encampments are exposed to human feces and urine as a result of the fact that residents usually must relieve themselves within or around the encampment itself.
Criminal Victimization in Encampments
Another grim reality about living in a homeless encampment is that many residents will find themselves criminally victimized. This includes an array of different types of victimization that includes:
- Physical assault
- Sexual assault and abuse
- Child abuse, including child sexual victimization
Drug Abuse in Encampments
Overall, drug abuse runs rampant in most homeless encampments. Indeed, oftentimes a smaller encampment develops among individuals who favor a particular type of illegal substance. For example, the residents of a homeless encampment may share a common desire to use meth or heroin.
Illness and Disease in Encampments
Yet another sad reality of living in a homeless encampment is the high incident of serious medical issues. Encampment residents nearly always lack access to appropriate medical care and treatment, even when they are afflicted with some type of serious medical condition. Diseases can spread apace within a homeless encampment, oftentimes leaving a considerable percentage of residents afflicted with the same ailment or condition.