Tent Cities: Homeless Villages on the Rise

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SEATTLE - Most say Seattle is a jewel of the Pacific Northwest, boasting success stories like Microsoft and Starbucks. 

But a closer look paints a different picture.

Within the city are tent cities, something reminiscent of the Great Depression's infamous "Hoovervilles." They are filled with homeless people of all ages and races.

Nearly 200 people call this tent city, located in the parking lot at University Christian Church, their home. Another 100 live in an encampment on Mercer Island, near a prosperous, suburban neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the rising number of foreclosures are responsible for populating tent cities, and it is not limited to Seattle.

Tent Cities Growing

From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 61 percent of the country's local and state state homeless coalitions report a spike in homelessness. Total numbers aren't known because some homeless live with family, friends, in hotels, or shelters.

But a growing number choose to live in tent cities.

Thirty-five year old Karissa Vaugh in Seattle is a tent city resident.

"As soon as I lost my job, I kinda of lost my place to live and came here," Vaughn told CBN News. "This is something that, you know, it could happen to anybody. And the preconceived notions I had maybe before about homeless people are out the window."

Aaron Beachage once lived in a $1,200 a month apartment. He now lives out of his van parked at the tent city.

"I have been homeless about three months," he said. "I found myself in this predicament through my job as a truck driver, losing my job.

A Hand Up or Hand Out?

Several local churches have answered the call to help by allowing tents on their property.

"The Letter of James says that God has chosen the poor for special honor in the kingdom and that when we judge against the poor because they're poor, then we have made a judgment that dishonors them," she explained. She believes the Church must play vital role in helping the homeless

"Encampments like this provide shelter and safety," Pastor Janetta Cravensboyd said. Cravensboyd pastors University Christian Church in Seattle.

"It's safer to be here than it is to be on the street alone. You have the security of food, you have companionship you have resources, it's safer," she explained.

Providers of tent cities say they are offering the homeless much needed shelter. But some are offering a much different perspective on tent cities.

"Our Saviour died to keep us off the cross. I don't think he'd be satisfied keeping us in tents," Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Wash., said.

"I think the Bible gives it to us straight, if you don't work, you don't eat," he said. "We're supposed to give hands up, not hand outs to the point of letting people stay the way they are."

An Uncomfortable Question

Not everyone agrees how to handle homelessness and the tent city issue.

Stephanie Alabaster, a student at the University of Washington which is near the Seattle tent city, said the makeshift homeless city is a little too close for comfort.

"It feels kind of uncomfortable," she explained. "We don't feel very safe with them there. We're just afraid they might sneak into the building. It just doesn't seem like a very good situation."

Fellow student Maggie Henley agreed that the situation was questionable.

"As long as they have a plan and they're trying to find jobs and stuff, I don't see anything wrong with it, everyone helping them," she said. "If they have no path, kind of just getting, by it's a little iffy."

What is certain, however, is that this problem will expand as the country's economy continues to tighten.

"Family homelessness is on the rise and we would think that those are the most affected by the mortgage defaults," Bill Kirlin-Hackett of the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness explained. "We think it's going to get a little worse before it gets better.

*Orginal broadcast December 6, 2008.

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CBN News
Charlene Israel

Charlene Israel

CBN News Reporter

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