Piles of trash. Piles of possessions, hard to distinguish from trash, including packs and sleeping bags and boxes of things. Stolen and abandoned shopping carts, some from long-closed businesses. The sickening stench of human feces and the sharp odor of urine. Wind- and abuse-shredded plastic tarps. Primitive fire-pits, sometimes with partially burned green limbs stripped from nearby trees.
A homeless encampment on the edge of a city – often a small city to boot. Places like Durango, Colorado. Or Rapid City, South Dakota. I’ve seen them. I’ve sometimes had to enter them on work or trying to help someone. They are sickening. Physically and morally.
And all too common in these Fifty States in this Year of our Lord 2022.
(Note: as the next picture shows, there ARE exceptions to the horror in the above picture. Some camps are neatly laid out, and either self-policing (as far as litter and junk) or being helped to avoid the terrible conditions that are much more common.)
“Homeless camps” are nothing new in this land of ours.
Technically, the campsites used by migrants and travelers heading West on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails back in the 1850s-1870s were “homeless camps.” These people had no homes: they had sold or abandoned their old farms or houses and businesses in towns. They carried all their earthly possessions in a Conestoga wagon. (And for many LDS, in a handcart.) Together with food they had painfully scraped together for a journey lasting months through what most considered all desert.
Especially in the aftermath of the agricultural collapse of the 1910s, the Great War, the further rural economic woes of the 1920s, and then the government-pushed and -worsened Great Depression, American states were filled with homeless: people without regular jobs, seeking work and a way to make a living. This was the era of the hobo and hobo camps – some of which still existed as late as the 1970s. (I visited one still occupied in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the early 2000s – now gone.) Hobos were itinerant workers, and seldom (at least in the beginning) accepted “charity” from either private people or governments.
Today’s homeless and their camps are much different. There ARE people who have been hit hard economically and are living out of a friend’s basement or even their car, trying to maintain a good public image of themselves (and too often their children) as they work at jobs during the day. But these people stay away from the homeless camps in wooded areas, under bridges and underpasses, or around government buildings.
The modern homeless camps are filled with a combination of the mentally-ill and the “unsheltered” homeless who cannot find room in shelters and assistance centers.
The above is in San Francisco, with the grandiose City Hall in the background. An example of a “disciplined” homeless camp.
Portland’s mayor is proposing a ban on these encampments. (Oregon, not Maine.)
What is the point of this litany of ugly? That these are signs of decay and a lack of willingness to address issues of personal responsibility and civilized behavior. And signs of failure of government as a system, an entity, to replace personal actions and responsibility.
The States have always had homeless camps and homeless people out wandering around, but never on this scale and never when a great many of the people had significant mental and emotional and social handicaps. Or so long-lasting.
Which makes it easier to understand why many people see a collapse of American civilization – not just government or society – as looming quickly.
Think on these things.
Some more references: