Tent city

Tent city

The term tent city is used to describe a variety of temporary housing facilities made using tents. Informal tent cities may be set up without authorization by homeless people or protesters. As well, state governments or military organizations set up tent cities to house refugees, evacuees, or soldiers. Tent cities set up by homeless people may be similar to shanty towns, which are informal settlements in which the buildings are made from scrap building materials.


In the military, the term "tent city" usually refers to temporary living quarters erected on deployed military bases, such as those found in Bosnia or Iraq. Depending on the branch of service and the length of time the tent city has been in place, the living space may be equipped with most modern amenities. For sanitary reasons, military tent cities place toilet, shower, and laundry facilities at least from living quarters. Also, tents are typically divided into clusters of 8-10 to prevent the rapid spread of fire, which is of utmost concern because of the tent and bedding materials.

Environmental disasters

Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, the term has been used to describe temporary housing sites set up for Gulf Coast residents who were left homeless by the storm. Some of the tents that were built by Seabees and funded by FEMA are wooden structures covered by tents. With the exception of indoor plumbing, most of the tents have heat, air, and lights. The tent city can hold as many as 250 occupants. Displaced residents are only expected to stay for three to six months.

Mobile Solar Power Generators

The first mobile solar power generator for use in a tent city will be delivered to the tent city in St. Petersburg, Florida, on October 19, 2008. Volunteers with the Potomac Sustainable Communities Initiative are working to attract large-scale funding to support the increasing number of homeless across the United States. For more information and to volunteer, go to http://altenergy.site90.com/

Homeless people

Los Angeles, California, USA

The BBC did a news story about tent cities in Los Angeles which reportedly went unreported by the national American main stream press. The story talked about how the causes of the crises in the U.S. economy has forced many people, who used to own their own homes, to now live in Hoovervilles.

St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

In late December 2006, homeless people formed an impromptu tent city on the St. Vincent de Paul property in the 1400 block of Fourth Avenue N. of St. Petersburg in Saint Petersburg, Florida when dozens of homeless moved off of public land across the street from the society. In early January 2007, city officials noted city codes that prohibit living in tents and gave the society one week to evict the occupants of the tent city.

Seattle, Washington, USA

Homeless people have long resorted to seeking shelter in tents , but these communities are one of the first known to be organized by a sponsoring organization (a partnership between the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort and Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League, often referred to by the combined acronym SHARE/WHEEL), and, even more notably, are one of the first in a major U.S. city to be largely accepted by local governments. Contrary to some stereotypes regarding the homeless, many residents of Tent City are employed, mostly in temporary or day labor jobs, but have insufficient income to obtain more permanent housing .

The original Tent City and Tent City 2, both created in the late 1990s, were created illegally and opposed by the City of Seattle. After being tolerated for some time, they were eventually forced to shut down. In March 2002, as a result of a legal battle, city attorney Tom Carr and SHARE/WHEEL attorney Ted Hunter signed a court ordered consent decree with SHARE, allowing Tent City only on private land (by invitation) and setting standards for its operation.

Based on the consent decree Tent City 3 was created and rotates around the Metro Seattle Core. Tent City 4 was created in May 2004 as an attempt to expand beyond the consent decree and use public land and resources, something the consent decree does not allow. This attempt was unsuccessful and Tent City 4 has since been relocated to eastern King County where it is church sponsored. Tent City rules do not allow drug or alcohol use, and evicts anyone caught stealing or committing other crimes within the camp. Stays for Tent City 3 have been around 3 weeks on average while Tent City 4 has had stays as long as 100 days. Cities have been adopting code amendments that limit stays to 60-90 days.

King County, Washington, USA

Tent City 4 (TC4) is a homeless encampment of up to 100 people created in May 2004 in eastern King County outside of Seattle. Residents are adult men and women, although there is a provision for quartering minor dependents in emergency situations. Residents may have their own tents or single men or women may stay in gender specific community tents. Dumpsters and portable toilets are provided by SHARE and there is a portable shower. The community currently relocates every three to four months on the property of Eastern King County churches upon invitation. Proponents state that the average length of residency per inhabitant is six weeks, with fewer long-term than short-term members.

Opponents challenge this claim citing SHARE'S testimony to King County and City of Seattle elected officials that they do not keep any data on residents in order to protect their privacy. While the percentage varies based on the occupants, many of the residents work part or full time for area businesses as day laborers or permanent employees. Tent City 4 governance consists of an Advisor similar to an executive, and a rotating Executive Committee elected by the community in a one person, one vote structure.

Tent City 4 has differentiated itself from other temporary encampments since 2004 due to its standard of requiring a signed "Code of Conduct" and performing warrant checks and sex offender checks on all potential residents. By signing the "Code of Conduct" the residents agree to abstain from drugs and alcohol while at the camp and share responsibility for site security and maintenance.

Tent City 4 advocates cite statements from local police and newspapers that there have been no increases in crime in the areas that Tent City 4 has been located in and that calls to police for a similar tent city in Seattle are about the same as an apartment complex with 100 residents. Opponents of Tent City 4 note that increases in law enforcement costs associated with TC4 are an impact to public safety that the rural areas TC4 visits are unprepared to handle. They also express concerns that analysis of actual police reports and raw data associated with occupancies actually show increases in crime rates conflicts with the official statements that are being made.

TC4 left Northshore United Church of Christ (NUCC) in Woodinville on August 12, 2006 ending their unpermitted 90 day stay at the church. In July 2007 the Washington Court of Appeals upheld the King County Superior Court ruling against SHARE and NUCC allowing the city to collect the fines levied. Tent City 4 had hoped to relocate to the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bothell and received permits to do so on August 11, but rejected the permit due to the number of conditions on the permit and instead moved to a backup site at Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church (WUUC) after receiving a permit from King County.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Toronto, Canada's largest city, was also home to its own "Tent City" until September 2002, when the residents of Tent City were evicted by the owner of the property, Home Depot. It was situated in the downtown core of Toronto, near the waterfront, and was home to hundreds of people who were homeless. Many of the residents built their own shelters or brought tents and some were even able to have certain luxuries like computers and television by illegally tapping into the city's power grid. A number of critics, including some citizens of Tent City, noted that many people in Tent City were substance abusers who chose to live there because they could spend their money exclusively on drugs. Some residents also resorted to prostitution to supplement their income and support their habits.

Tent City was mainly self-governed, as police would not usually enter it unless a major crime was committed. One of the oldest residents of Tent City became the appointed "Mayor" and oversaw the operation of the city and helped deal with the crime that did occur. In one instance a resident who was leaving Tent City sold his shelter twice to two separate individuals, making a profit for himself and leaving the buyers to resolve the dispute. There were also citizens who turned to theft in order to make money. Despite these conditions, there were some residents who felt more secure in Tent City than they did in the Government shelters and chose to live in a self-regulated area where they could defend themselves.

When Tent City was closed, Home Depot evicted the residents with private security guards. They were allowed to briefly return to their homes to retrieve their possessions before being permanently removed from the area. This action was criticized by activist groups as an attempt by Home Depot to clear land to develop a downtown big box outlet. After the eviction, the residents were dispersed and forced to find new areas downtown where they could live or to move into shelters. Three years later, at the end of 2005, the land remained undeveloped and Home Depot has since opened a downtown outlet at Gerrard Square--a mall that sits on the corner of Pape and Gerrard. Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, a writer, abandoned his middle class lifestyle to live in Tent City for a year. He received very little outside assistance and begged for money to sustain himself. He detailed his experiences in a book, listed in the link below. Information on the closure of Tent City Toronto Information on Down to This: Squalor and Splendour in a Big-city Shantytown by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, a writer who lived in Tent City for a year before its closure.

Other cities

Tent cities are also found in the following cities: Chattanooga, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; Athens, Georgia; Reno, Nevada; and San Diego, California;



For the festivities of the 2,500 year celebration of Iran's monarchy the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, built a luxurious tent city in the desert next to the ruins of Persepolis to accommodate his international guests. The event took place October 12-16,1971. The tent city was inspired by the tent city of the Field of the Cloth of Gold meeting between Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England that took place in 1520.


Every year, the Saudi Arabian government's Ministry of Hajj sets up a tent city to support Muslim pilgrims in the village of Mina, where the ritual Stoning of the Devil takes place as part of the overall Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. A tent city is also established annually at Mount Arafat, another essential stop during the Hajj. Because up to four million pilgrims may be performing the Hajj annually, the tent cities are densely inhabited with 20-40 people per tent. As such, fire and disease outbreaks are constant concerns. Since the late 1990s, Saudi authorities have started using fireproof tents to reduce the risks of a major fire.

Other applications

Kent State University

On May 12, 1977, a tent city was erected and maintained for a period of more than 60 days by a group of several dozen protesters on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, United States. The protesters, led by the May 4 Task Force but also including community members and local clergy, were attempting to prevent the university from erecting a gymnasium annex on part of the site where the Kent State shootings occurred in May 1970, which they believed would alter and obscure that historical event. Law enforcement finally brought the tent city to an end on July 12, 1977, after the forced removal and arrest of 193 people. The event gained national press coverage and the issue was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Maricopa County Jail Modification

Prior to the election of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 1993, the prisoner population in Maricopa County Jail, Arizona, the 4th largest jail system in the world, exceeded the maximum number of inmates allowed in its facilities. Prisoners were routinely released from custody prior to completing their sentence due to the overcrowding. In a study conducted in 1993 it was estimated that construction of a new facility would cost approximately $70,000,000. Sheriff Arpaio, concerned about the cost of a new facility and reasoning that military tents were good enough for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who fought in Operation Desert Storm, ordered that a Tent Jail be constructed utilizing inmate labor . It consisted of Korean War era tents donated by the U.S. Military, and a 50 ft (15.4 m) observation tower with a vacancy sign mounted on the front. The final cost of the project was approximately $100,000 and it is capable of housing over 2400 Inmates.

All inmates housed outside in the tents (N yard for the males and O yard for the females) are "volunteers" in the "Working Inmate Program" and must agree to work an assigned job and comply with the Sheriff's grooming standards. Inmates who decline to work or refuse to groom themselves are relocated inside a hardened facility along with the rest of the prison population.

"The Apprentice"

In Donald Trump's sixth season of The Apprentice, the losing team will live in the "Tent City" adjacent to the mansion where the winning team will live. In the "Tent City", the losing team will not have access to electricity in order to run common living tasks and will share two tents, a shower, and a grill for cooking. This staged "Tent City" becomes a symbol for the inferior status of the loser.

Denver International Airport

Denver International Airport (DIA) is sometimes referred to as 'Tent City' due to its construction using high tension white fabric, intended to represent the Rocky Mountains.


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