In 1930, as the reality of the Great Depression began to kick in, Charles Michelson – a journalist and political publicist for the Democratic Party – delivered a damaging verbal blow to then-President Herbert Hoover over the growing tent cities across the nation: “Hoovervilles.” It was a term that squarely placed the blame for out-of-control homelessness on the president’s shoulders, and arguably aided in his resounding defeat by Franklin D. Roosevelt who took 42 states and 472 electoral college votes. With New York City announcing that a taxpayer-funded tent city for illegal migrants has been approved, one wonders if the current commander-in-chief will fare any better than Hoover.
Tent Cities Back in Fashion
On Monday, August 7, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared that Randalls Island will be home to the first officially sanctioned illegal migrant encampment in the Big Apple. “As the number of asylum seekers in our care continues to grow by hundreds every day, stretching our system to its breaking point and beyond, it has become more and more of a Herculean effort to find enough beds every night,” Adams said in a statement.
It is believed up to 50,000 migrants currently reside in NYC’s shelter system, a situation that the formerly welcoming “sanctuary city” now claims is unsustainable. Adams noted that his city had “run out of room” and has called for a “state of emergency.” The hotels that were housing the influx have now reached capacity, and with the borders of the United States effectively open, the tide is unlikely to ebb any time soon.
This is not the first time that Randalls Island has acted as a temporary home to the city’s overflow of migrants. In October 2022, a parking lot was converted – at great expense – into the city’s first Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center. After just one month, the camp closed citing a lack of use, which may be explained by the fact that the area was prone to flooding. And yet the island’s top local lawmaker was not dissuaded in her support. “Seemed pretty organized and as welcoming as a tent could be,” NYC Council Member Diana Ayala said. “Ultimately, it’s not the worst situation for a very temporary stay.” But with the shutdown of the border enforcement protocol Title 42, the numbers are rising beyond the city’s ability to cope.
A Solution Filled with Problems
How will New York and Mayor Adams solve the problem of too many people with not enough resources? The new tent city will almost certainly become a permanent fixture, as the hotels are full, and building an extra 50,000 homes or apartments in a city where the cost of land is prohibitive for even well-heeled residents is a non-starter. And what happens when 50,000 becomes 100,000? It seems the only realistic answer is more and more tent cities.
There are presently an estimated 27 tent cities across the country, mostly catering to the local homeless population; many are officially sanctioned by state governance. Tent City 3 in Seattle is one of the most notable, as the residents (up to 100 individuals) can access certain healthcare provisions. But it is not funded directly by the taxpayer.
By paying for the Randalls Island encampment out of the public purse, the idea that it will be a temporary solution to a fleeting crisis becomes little more than a sop to the New York residents who are on the hook for the bill. As economist Milton Friedman once noted, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” As the number of illegal immigrants continues to increase, so too will the need for such tent cities and the demand that residents pay for their upkeep.
Making New Yorkers foot the bill all but guarantees that more of the same will follow. After all, fewer services and higher taxes are a small price to pay to live in the greatest city in the world – albeit surrounded by a growing number of de facto homeless camps. Right?
A Human Sorrow
While there are certainly distinctions between the original Hoovervilles and what may come to be known as “Bidenvilles,” there are enough similarities to make the acceptance of this first Randalls Island camp a cause for concern. Once the genie is out of the bottle and other states realize that they too can deal with the mounting problem by simply funding camps from the public purse, it is a certainty as much as death and taxes that they will do so. No longer will tent cities be a place of last resort, but a first step in a process to mitigate the damage done by open border policies that do not seek to limit immigration to fiscal responsibility.
In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the author describes the sorry state of a tent city in California. “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation,” he wrote. “There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize.” Many of the migrants who cross the southern border are looking for a better life with greater opportunities; instead, they will be met with the follies of an administration that seems not to look beyond the next election cycle and the careless virtue signaling that is so applauded by the legacy media.
The cost of this folly will not be truly measured for years to come, but it will be high. And not just in a dollar amount.
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