Modern Shantytowns Are a Throwback to Hoovervilles

The New York Times reported on the growing number of tents and lean-tos in Fresno, Calif., in the article "Cities Deal With a Surge in Shantytowns." It's a throwback to the Hoovervilles of Depression-era America, writer Jesse McKinley says. McKinley clarifies that these shantytowns exist "on a far smaller scale" than Hoovervilles, but they're becoming a very real part of the landscape in such places as Nashville, Olympia, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

It's a grim reality. While some American families are dealing with foreclosures, some never had a McMansion to begin with. And perhaps the situation is most dire in Fresno, just judging from the numbers. Out of a city population of 500,000, nearly 2,000 homeless citizens have been counted. The city has more than three established encampments. Fresno officials hope to clear them and move the residents into permanent living areas.

Maybe it's just really hopeful reporting or a bit of fairy dust, but McKinley's piece didn't leave me hanging my head, wondering where the justice is. There's pride in the voices from the article, people who put in a day's work and go home to a structure that they made from their own two hands. One man featured in the article, Guillermo Flores, assesses the conditions of his lean-to and says, "The only problem I have is the spiders."

Elsewhere, Slate's Eduardo M. Penalver asks, "Squatters are multiplying in the recession -- what should cities do?" Read as a companion piece to McKinley's romantic portrait of Fresno's encampments, Penalver reminds us that squatting, for all the logistical sense it may make, is illegal. What's more, he says, it's "a symptom of simultaneous failure of both the market and the government."

I'll let you guys comment on that one.

For more, read: How Squatting Works How Homelessness Works How Freegans Work