A Cost of the Financial Meltdown: Refugees in America

27 02 2009

Middle class U.S. citizens are living in tent cities after losing their homes because of the economic crisis. Lisa Ling did a special report about this for the Oprah show yesterday. It is painful to see homeless people, but even more painful to see people who had jobs and were living a middle class existence now living in a tent. About 1200 people live in tent cities in Sacramento, where Lisa visited, and these communities are popping up all over the country. Homeless shelters are filled to capacity.

In her report, Lisa featured people such as 47-year-old Tammy, who has been living in a tent city for a little less than a year. Her husband was a tilesetter and lost his job. They then lost their home, their car, and everything they had. Tammy can’t find work in her profession as a cashier although she and her husband are both trying to find a job. They eat food that people throw out. She most misses having a shower and a bathroom – a place to do her makeup and hair. She said “I miss looking like a girl. I miss smelling like a girl.” You can see the pain and sense of shame in her face as she talks. 

Another person Lisa interviewed is Jim, a widower and father of five who has lived in the tent city for four months. He lost his construction job after work tapered off. He said that living in a tent “…is like learning to live all over again.” He too mentions the lack of a shower and bathroom and also the absence of a stove and refrigerator. He looks for work 3 – 4 days a week…when he can afford to do so. He has no car and no money and relies on public transit for transportation. He showed Lisa his tent, which includes a fire pit and bottles of water. To get water, he has to walk three miles roundtrip.

I’ve written posts on Iraqi refugees and the large number of refugees overseas, but I had no idea that homeless Americans are living in tents in camps that look very much like those that Iraqi or Darfur refugees live in. It is wonderful that our country is sending money overseas to help displaced people in other countries; we have people who need help in our own country.

If you want to know more about homelessness or find out how you can help, check out the Homelessness section of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development web page.

Here’s a short video that BBC showed last year on a tent city outside of Los Angeles.