With the economy in flames, the launch of Nickelsville looming, and organizers in Ballard looking to establish safe zones for the growing numbers of car campers, the notion that anyone is "ending homelessness" through better use of data and smarter deployment of resources is becoming more ludicrous by the day.
Today brings a bit of reality to the mix from the Associated Press' Evelyn Nievens. Her story, In hard times, tent cities rise across the country, has centered the nation's attention, for a few days anyway, upon the obvious.
Nievens' reporting made headlines everywhere from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to USA Today to MSNBC and the Huffington Post and several hundred newspapers and blogs in between.
From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.
Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they've experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report's release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.
"It's clear that poverty and homelessness have increased," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. "The economy is in chaos, we're in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future."
The phenomenon of encampments has caught advocacy groups somewhat by surprise, largely because of how quickly they have sprung up.
"What you're seeing is encampments that I haven't seen since the 80s," said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group for homeless advocacy organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Seattle.
The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans. The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood. In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters. Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a 12 percent drop in homelessness nationally in two years, from about 754,000 in January 2005 to 666,000 in January 2007. But the 2007 numbers omitted people who previously had been considered homeless - such as those staying with relatives or friends or living in campgrounds or motel rooms for more than a week.
In addition, the housing and economic crisis began soon after HUD's most recent data was compiled.
"The data predates the housing crisis," said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD. "From the headlines, it might appear that the report is about yesterday. How is the housing situation affecting homelessness? That's a great question. We're still trying to get to that."
In Seattle, which is experiencing a building boom and an influx of affluent professionals in neighborhoods the working class once owned, homeless encampments have been springing up - in remote places to avoid police sweeps.
"What's happening in Seattle is what's happening everywhere else - on steroids," said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, an advocacy organization that publishes a weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.
Homeless people and their advocates have organized three tent cities at City Hall in recent months to call attention to the homeless and protest the sweeps - acts of militancy, said Harris, "that we really haven't seen around homeless activism since the early '90s."
Cool. We're organizing, and HUD is working on getting around to looking at the problem. Real solutions can't be far off.