There’s nothing “lucky” for those forced to live in tent cities

The cover story on a New Jersey daily newspaper highlighted the growing number of tent cities popping up all over the state. For those of you who don’t know, they’re a grouping of families and individuals who cannot afford adequate housing – gathered in open fields and wooded areas calling the inside of a tent home.

Some of the insensitive bores I work with read the article and their immediate response was, “They’re lucky, they don’t have to pay taxes.”

Lucky? Are you kidding me? How do you figure that spending your days living in tent cities with no clean running water or heat lucky? “Insensitive bores” might actually be too tame for them.

A new term has been coined for the increasing number of homeless Americans across this country – economic homeless.

The term applies to the growing number of Americans recently displaced by unforeseen layoffs, inevitable foreclosures and other financial troubles brought on by an unstable economy.

It’s easy to think that tent cities are filled with vagrants and gypsies, individuals suffering from mental illness or those falling on hard times due to substance abuse.  The sad reality? – residents aren’t much different than ordinary people like you and I.

Writer David Von Drehle once said, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job, the saying goes; a depression is when you lose yours.” A reality which now weighs heavy on the minds of many Americans from coast to coast. Obviously not the individuals I work with.

States across the country are struggling to shut down tent cities and move residents into adequate shelters, but some are just not ready to accept the strict rules and lack of privacy associated with occupancy. And so eliminating these camps all together is a daunting and sometimes impossible task.

What I can’t emphasize enough is how ordinary the economic homeless truly are. They hold associate or bachelor degrees, have a good work ethic, have driven nice cars and lived in modest homes – sometimes even squeezing in a decent vacation. But the word “layoff” could spell disaster for a family’s way of life. Removing one or more salaries from the equation can truly shutter the security so many of us are used to.

I have a great deal of empathy for those who have lost the American dream their ancestors worked so hard to afford them. For those who now label themselves as “homeless.” We all have a great deal to be thankful for – myself included. For those who think the residents of tent cities are “lucky,” be thankful that your home address isn’t the third blue tent from the left.