Under President Obama the number of U.S. citizens living in deep poverty has exploded. Forty-seven million Americans now live below the poverty line, the highest recorded number in more than 50 years. Tent cities, springing up in parts of Michigan and Florida, are bringing the statistics to life in a new way.
The BBC found entire families living in tents, either unemployed or earning too little to afford rent. Several years of high unemployment have led roughly 5,000 people to live in these tent camps across America. Most have no toilets. In the community the BBC found, electricity is only available in one communal tent where a stove is kept on for warmth.
Conditions are unhygienic. Asked about sanitation in the camps, resident Alana Gehringer told the BBC about “black mold.”
“It was on our pillows, it was on our blankets, we were literally rubbing our faces in it sleeping every night,” she said.
Residents who run the camps have built up relationships with charities, hospitals and homeless shelters.
“Last night, for example, we got a call saying they had six that couldn’t make it into the shelter and … they were hoping that we could place them. … So we usually get calls, around nine or 10 a night,” said Brian Durance, one camp organizer. Catholic charities have also contributed laundry services, computers and phones.
Asked about the rising number of people living in tents near Ann Arbor, Michigan, the state’s lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, commented, “That is absolutely not acceptable, and we have to take steps and policies in order to make sure that those people have the skills they need to be independent, and it won’t happen overnight.”
Today 13 million Americans are unemployed — three million more than when President Barack Obama was elected. With the exception of 1982, nationwide unemployment is at its post-Great Depression high water mark.