Tent sites for the homeless crowding the sidewalks of big cities make my skin crawl They appear to be hot beds for rubbish, litter, poor health, and crime.  Many cities fight against the eyesores, passing legislation, carrying out evictions, and tearing down the tents. Denver was one of those where government attempted to outlaw the gatherings and drive the homeless away. If we simply pass a law prohibiting sleeping outside, on sidewalks, under bridges, in doorways, we’ll be rid of the problem.

These ideas remind me of “A Modest Proposal,” in which Jonathan Swift suggested in 1729 fattening poor children of Ireland so they subsequently could be used to feed those wealthier, thereby solving several problems at one. Homeless projects have proven notably ineffective long-term. Yet no other approach is achieving notable success.

Some show promise. Cities like Seattle have approved sites for the homeless to use—set up tents or park motorhomes and cars. San Francisco’s approach during COVID allowed homeless people to voluntarily quarantine in repurposed hotels, which includes providing them with behavioral health support. Now a proposal to transform what remains of certain areas of San Francisco into a mass of sanctioned homeless camps has supporters, in view of the astronomical cost to the city of hotel housing 

Research shows the longer people live unsheltered, the more likely they are to face high barriers to finding and maintaining permanent housing. These barriers can be financial, medical, related to behavioral health, related to a poor rental history or a history in the criminal justice system. So the longer we delay addressing the issue, the bigger it will become. It’s no secret that homelessness has increased during COVID even though a definitive simple answer doesn’t seem to exist yet.

Like San Francisco, Denver is struggling to develop an approach to keep the homeless sheltered to some extent without trashing the environs. We’ve tried outlawing the practice of camping, swooping down to confiscate belongings, conducting cleanups, shifting camps from one area to another.

The neighborhood in which I now live is on the outskirts of the city, and I never see homeless here, unlike my old community. But I drive through central areas where tents and the homeless seem to spread like mushrooms, and I cannot support efforts to eradicate temporary housing. Denver’s tent cities are so important. You can’t close your eyes and pretend the poor and maladjusted aren’t with us. Our tent cities are a constant reminder of unresolved issues, of problems that still exist in the “best of all possible worlds.”

We always want simple answers to complex problems. That’s not ever going to happen. We can just close our eyes, ears and minds to the situation. Or we can use our brains, hearts, and compassion to dig out reasons and keep trying.