Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's Christmas Time in the (Tent) City

A tent city is growing in the suburbs of Los Angeles:

Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people. It is not, as might be expected, in a blighted city center, but in the once-booming suburbia of Southern California.

The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis.

The unraveling of the region known as the Inland Empire reads like a 21st century version of "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck's novel about families driven from their lands by the Great Depression.

As more families throw in the towel and head to foreclosure here and across the nation, the social costs of collapse are adding up in the form of higher rates of homelessness, crime and even disease.

QandO is enraged that Dana Ford, the Reuters reporter who wrote the above, does not mention until the fifth paragraph that none of the current residents of this tent city are there because of foreclosure. Somehow, that invalidates the entire article. Under a headline reading, "Foreclosures Send Homeless To Tent City?" McQ huffs, "Or maybe they don't. Another classic of media dissembling."
Tent city. U.S. housing crisis. Grown from 20 to 200 residents. "The Grapes of Wrath". Great depression. Foreclosure leads to higher rates of homelessness.

Or does it:
While no current residents claim to be victims of foreclosure, all agree that tent city is a symptom of the wider economic downturn. And it's just a matter of time before foreclosed families end up at tent city, local housing experts say.

Or put another way, everything in the first few paragraphs is apparently a crock of crap.

Yes, 200 people are living in a tent city because they love the great outdoors.

In an update, McQ links to two liberal bloggers (Brilliant at Breakfast's Jill, and Libby at Newshoggers), declaring, "Of course, dependable as dawn, the usual suspects swallow the nonsense hook-line-and-sinker and predictably blame it on Bush." What's interesting is that, in Jill's post, McQ ignores this paragraph, which immediately follows her quote from the Reuters article:
The housing bust is part of it, but so is the spiralling cost of health care, a dwindling job base as more companies outsource jobs [that] pay a living wage, and the crushing debt that this president will be leaving us.

And he ignores what Libby says about her Christmas shopping experience:
The traffic was horrendous and I found the parking lots 75% full, but nonetheless it wasn't difficult to find a convenient spot. The stores were also relatively crowded but people were looking, not buying. I've never overheard so many people debating on whether they wanted to spend quite so much on some item, even when it was on sale. And the sales were astounding. I've never seen such price slashing before Christmas Day. But the selections were spare. Stores definitely tightened up their inventories this year. It took me four stores to find a suitable ornament.

Most telling on the state of Christmas sales this year, was the speed at which I sailed through the checkouts. Despite the crowds, people weren't buying much. There were a dozen people ahead of me at the most crowded store and I got to the cashier in less than a couple of minutes. Last year at the same store it took close to a half an hour in a similiarly long line. But what really struck me was the dispirited mood of the people. The atmosphere was grimly determined rather than carelessly festive.

I was particularly struck by the conversations Libby overheard, because it reminded me of a conversation I overheard in a supermarket the other day. A couple near me were discussing which credit card to put the groceries on (which ones are too near their credit limits?), and debating over what to buy. The woman said to her companion, "You haven't gone grocery shopping for a long time. You don't know how much things cost." I used to think it was just me, but lately I've been noticing more and more of these debates: decisions over which brand to buy, how many to buy, whether you should buy a couple of individual rolls of toilet paper instead of the six-pack or the eight-pack, whether you should skip the box of Kleenex or the roll of paper towels, because you can use toilet paper if you sneeze or spill something, whether you really need that box of cereal since you still have instant oatmeal you can eat for breakfast, examining every brand of dog or cat food on the shelves to see if there's one that's even cheaper, and on and on.

The problem is not just foreclosures due to lenders making risky loans. The problem goes far beyond that. The problem is that people cannot pay their living expenses, and their housing expenses, and their medical expenses because of sharply rising costs in these areas -- because food is becoming prohibitively expensive, and because rents are ridiculously high, and because we're in a flat job market where even if people have jobs, those jobs don't pay enough to make ends meet, and because people are losing their health insurance and can't afford to buy private health insurance. Whether the 200 or so people living in that tent city in California are there because the bank foreclosed on their houses, or whether they are there because they can't find a job or a place to live and they have nowhere else to go, the problem is an economy that forces people into such desperate situations, and a presidential administration that simply does not care.

1 comment:

Joan said...

Hi There!

I think the critique is a fair one. It leads the reader to believe that foreclosure led to that tent city. It also blurs the real issue of homelessness. Specifically, tent cities have existed long before Bush ever entered politics. The real question is why we (and I include myself in this accusation) are willing to accept homelessness. In a country as rich as either one of our countries we have no excuse for keeping anyone below the poverty line, and certainly no excuse to make people sleep on the street. We can afford to build decent housing for the low income people. We can afford to feed these people. So why aren't we doing it?

Take Care