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Hoovervilles and outdoor kitchens

March 26, 2009

The Daily Beast links to the New York Times’ story about the return of Hoovervilles, those impromptu shanty towns that grew up in American cities during the Great Depression and were named after the President who was blamed for their existence.

What do Nashville, Olympia, Seattle, St. Petersburg, Fresno, and Sacramento have in common? Shanty towns. The New York Times reports that tent cities are cropping up across the nation as the country’s recession deepens and people who used to make more than minimum wage become unable to house themselves and turn to modern day Hoovervilles as a last resort. Residents of Sacramento’s tent city got tired of the media after Oprah’s coverage of their plight prompted a media stampede. Fresno’s homelessness prevention and policy manager said that drug use, violence, and prostitution happen in the encampments. “That’s all part of that underground economy,” he said. “It’s what happens when a person is trying to survive.”

It is hard to believe that not much more than two years ago, while I was doing some real estate development work, I came across an article in a trade magazine ranking the fastest-growing residential renovation jobs requested by homeowners. Number 1? Outdoor kitchens. A little more than two years ago, a significant number of people were spending tens of thousands of dollars to get a fenced-in deck with a built-in barbecue station and now…we have people cooking over fires outside the tents they live in.

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