Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether, as a society, we’ve just taken one step forward or one step back. Case in point: Denver has created what amounts to a campground of ice-fishing tents to house the homeless. It beats sleeping outside–Colorado has been in a deep freeze the past week or so–and for many occupants it beats sleeping in public shelters, which are overcrowded and often perceived as unsafe. But as observed by Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the approach signals that “we’re institutionalizing that it’s OK for people to live outside.”
As reported yesterday by the Associated Press, the insulated tents come with electrical outlets, a cot and a zero-degree rated sleeping bag–but apparently no heat source. While cities like Seattle and Portland, Oregon, have experimented with building tiny homes for the homeless, even the most modest designs can cost nearly $25,000 apiece, compared with the $400 cost of an ice-fishing tent. And given the situation in Colorado, where record-high home prices have been exacerbated by the loss of hundreds of homes to a December prairie-grass fire, such a low-cost approach can serve the greatest number for the least expense.
But as Roman intimates, such stop-gap measures run the risk of becoming normalized. The country’s housing crisis is growing more urgent with each passing month, and without a vigorous overhaul of urban housing policies, the lack of affordable housing will only grow more extreme. “It’s just hard to see us say as a nation, ‘Well, it’s okay to see people stay outside as long as they have a tent,’ ” Roman told the AP reporter. “It’s hard to feel that’s progress.”
Last night’s temperature in Denver dropped to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. It was -6 on Wednesday, and hasn’t risen above freezing since Monday. Need more be said?