A recent BBC report interviews American families forced by economic hardship to move into tent slums in California.

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 03/16/2009

Concentrations of homeless people are nothing new in America, but a recent BBC report depicts a rising trend of shanty slums, such as a "city" of newly homeless people living in tents near the Ontario airport in Los Angeles.

If you recall your Steinbeck, the residents of the 20c Hoovervilles were largely tenant farmers thrown off their farms by the owners, who in turn tried mechanized farming to bring down costs and break even.  These displaced farmers migrated West where they became agricultural day laborers and settled into shanty camps.

The California tent slum depicted in the BBC report is quite different, because they are not migrant workers, so much as locals who have lost their homes.  It is hard to tell if the newly dispossessed are all the victims of the sub prime market.  More likely, the tent slum population is a mix of new and old homelessness--perhaps with a few migrant workers in the mix. 

(video credit:  BBC)

I do not know if there is a technical point at which a tent city becomes a slum--a boundary of some sort that gets crossed in terms of population ensity or length of time in existence or total acreage.  But the Los Angeles Times reports that the police are handing out armbands to make sure that only locals take up residence in the tent camp by the airport.  Non locals have to get out.  Passing  out wrist bands to make sure only locals get into the camp has to be crossing a boundary of some kind. And it is not a good one to cross.

Whatever the actual demographics, the images and the stories are heartbreaking.  If ever there was a reason to let go of market orthodoxy, and to re-embrace the American spirit of making things better by the mostpragmatic means possible--this is it. Make it work better, period. No more ideology; no more grand theories about freedom from government; just come together to help people before we lose a generation to this mounting economic tragedy.

© Jeffrey Feldman 2009, Frameshop

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