WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Homeless encampments that are being dubbed “tent cities” are popping up in big and small communities across the country. One mayor believes the pandemic has made the problem worse.
“This pandemic exposed every vulnerability in our social welfare system,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.
Johnson said when the pandemic started, his city’s homeless shelters cut back on space to allow social distancing.
“So they ended up on our streets, ended up on our corners,” Johnson said.
To help give people something more substantial than tents in places with no bathrooms or showers, Savannah used its budget boosted by pandemic relief last year to run a city-owned homeless encampment. It offers security, running water and more sanitary conditions to the growing unhoused population. There are plans for more permanent container homes in the coming years.
Many other cities across the nation are seeing this boom in the unhoused on the streets too.
In Los Angeles, four people were sent to the hospital after a car crashed into a homeless encampment Tuesday morning. Authorities say the car involved had collided with another vehicle before losing control, driving up onto the sidewalk and plowing into that encampment in Koreatown.
In Texas, a new statewide ban on camping on public land just went into effect this month.
Dr. Brandon Whipple, the mayor of Wichita, Kansas, told NewsNation that his city used COVID-19 funds to buy a hotel for people experiencing homelessness.
Advocates for ending homelessness say governments need to make sure tents aren’t the best option for their residents.
“The point is, find landlords who have empty units and rent apartments to the people who are homeless,” said Steve Berg with the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The latest federal statistics on homelessness don’t show a huge surge in the homeless population, but that doesn’t take into account the pandemic because the last count was in January 2020. Right now, there’s no real way to quantify the problem.