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1A Remaking America: State-sanctioned homeless encampments

The Other Ones Foundation Executive Director Chris Baker stands in front of The Esperanza Community, now a village of 80 tiny homes.
The Other Ones Foundation Executive Director Chris Baker stands in front of The Esperanza Community, now a village of 80 tiny homes.

Close to600, 000people in the U.S. don’t have a home of their own, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.Ofthose in America experiencing homelessness,40 percentof themare living outdoors or in buildings not meant for human habitation.

Often, this takes the form of homeless encampments. Equally often, cities cities spend time and money forcing people out of them. Peopleliving on the streets are 10 times more likely to be stopped by the police, and nine times more likely to spend a night in jail than people living in shelters, according to a 2019 study by the California Policy Lab.

Some cities and states have explicitly made public camping illegal. Voters in Austin, Texas, approved a camping ban in 2021.

One option cities are looking to aresanctionedencampments. These are places where unhoused folks can pitch a tent and live without the threat of law enforcement telling them to leave. They can have varying degrees of services, from basic sanitation like porta-potties, to on-site case management. Portland, Oregon, plans to open six city-run encampments that could house 1,500 people. That’s in an effort to eventually ban camping by 2024. 

Housing advocates say the best approach is “housing-first,” but that has its critics.There is a shortage of 7 million affordable homes for millions of America’s poorest families, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition

We feature Austin’s only state-sanctioned homeless encampment that opened in 2019. Since then, the place had become a community of people with their own tiny homes.

We discuss camping bans, homeless navigation centers, and housing-first approaches.

This show was part of 1A’s Remaking America collaboration with six partner stations, including KUT in Austin, Texas. Remaking America is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

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June Leffler
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