More than 653,000 Americans are homeless, says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a 12% increase from last year. Among the total, 64% are unsheltered. As tent encampments continue to dot urban landscapes, many cities have increased their sweeps, some governors have announced funding to clear encampments, and several states have outlawed tent communities altogether, Stateline reports. “Sweeps are a way to diminish the visibility in a specific area — not overall, but in a specific area — in the short term,” said Samantha Batko of the Urban Institute. City leaders from Minneapolis to Las Vegas say the sweeps are intended to reduce health hazards for those living in the camps and for the surrounding community, while also connecting homeless people with case workers and shelters.
Housing experts and homeless advocates argue sweeps are cruel, displace people from needed social services and communities, risk the loss of their possessions, and don’t solve the root of the problem, which is the need for more affordable housing. While cities and the unhoused wait for that housing to emerge, elected leaders are trying to find ways to alleviate the uncomfortable visuals of countless rows of their constituents sheltered in tents. They are greenlighting more sweeps, going to the courts to expand their power to clear camps, and adopting “safe” camping options such as city-designated camps. Cities have raced to sign on to an amicus brief in favor of more city power to clear camps. At the same time, some states are trying to prohibit encampments. Over the past two years, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas have enacted laws banning public camping on public land. “It’s a tragic situation for the people left on the streets,” he said. “Leaving people on the streets is not a compassionate situation. It is not a good thing. It’s not good for the community or those who are homeless,” said Bryan Sunderland of the Cicero Institute, a conservative think tank that offers model policies for public camping bans.