Camp America – Not What You Imagined

The BBC investigative program Panorama, this week highlighted the very real problem of poverty faced by many Americans. The program sent journalists around to various American cities that have seen groups of tents spring up on their outskirts.

These tents are not made up of festival-goers, or hippies who want to live off the land and enjoy a simple life. No, these tents are, unfortunately, the only accommodation that the unemployed or the poorly paid can afford.

Visiting these ‘campsites’ Panorama highlighted the terrible conditions in which these people have succumbed to living in. Many of them lacked toilets, had very limited access to electricity, sanitation was poor, conditions unhygienic and the inhabitants have little chance to stay warm and dry when the weather turns wet or icy.

There is estimated to be nearly 60 of these ‘tent towns’ around American cities, one of the largest – in Florida, is thought to house approximately 300 people.


According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century – fuelled by several years of high unemployment.

One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland.

In the Ann Arbor camp, Alana Gehringer, 23, has had a hacking cough for the last four months.

“The black mould – it was on our pillows, it was on our blankets, we were literally rubbing our faces in it sleeping every night,” she said of wintering in a tent.

The camp is run by the residents themselves, with the help of a local charity group. Calls have come in from the hospital emergency room, the local police and the local homeless shelter to see if they can send in more.

I have only been camping once in my life, and that was to attend the Glastonbury Festival. Although the experience was mostly a pleasant one, as I was surrounded by friends, good music and fabulous entertainment, by the end of the week I was longing for my hot bath and my warm bed. I was fed up fighting with bugs and mosquitoes, of trying to get clean in a bucket of water or with a not so efficient ‘solar shower’, I was sick of the festival toilets which were full of mud and hardly hygienic.

I can only imagine what these poor people, who have ended up living in these campsites almost permanently, must be going through. Though I am sure it is a damn sight better than being homeless, it is not really an acceptable way for society to treat its impoverished and something drastic must be done to help these people.

Figures from the latest census stated that around 47 million people live below the poverty line in America and it is thought that nearly 5,000 people have resorted to living in these tented encampments.

Many of these camps are run by the residents who hold meetings and devise community rules and regulations, others are run by churches or homeless charities.
It is widely believed that this is the worst period of poverty experienced by Americans since the great depression in the 1930s – with unemployment figures stating that approximately 13million Americans are currently out of work.

For many of us, especially those of us from outside of the USA, this will be the first time we are hearing about these ‘tent cities’. It is a shocking to think that this many people, in what is supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world, have had to resort to living in conditions like this.

Watch Poor America on BBC Iplayer

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About Sheniz Raif

I am, and think I have always been, a writer. I’ve been scribbling stories since I was old enough to hold a pen and thoroughly enjoy using my words to make people laugh or inspire them. I love going to gigs and am a professional groupie for a couple of awesome bands. I am an avid fan of socializing, football, film, and refusing to grow up! I’m also a proud member of the BODO UK team!