The homeless camp under the freeway overpass in downtown Milwaukee has been nicknamed "Tent City," but after its rapid expansion this summer, "Tent County" might be more appropriate. Well over four dozen tents now dot the area, and Milwaukee seems hellbent on attracting dozens more. The growing community has daily food delivery, porta-potties, and even weekly garbage pickup. On Sunday afternoon, one guy was even lounging (shirtless, naturally) on a leather couch he had apparently found.
The image is a perfect metaphor for why Milwaukee's homeless population seems to be so rapidly expanding: It's relatively comfortable to live on the street in Milwaukee. Groups like Street Angels give them free tents and food while the city drops off garbage bags every morning and picks them up each week.
"The tents can, for some individuals, remove their incentive to seek temporary shelter and longer-term housing options. In the short term, a tent offers an easier solution that comes with no rules, curfews, applications, etc.," homeless advocate Faith Kohler told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The food deliveries eliminate the incentive for people to go to nearby meal sites that serve the homeless community. In addition to providing shelter and food, these locations refer individuals into the continuum-of-care coordinated entry process. Tent and food deliveries don’t."
And neither does the willful ignorance to the real causes of homelessness: Drug addiction and mental illness. Improving conditions for life on the streets only keeps people from getting the treatment they desperately need to be able to rejoin society. Given that homeless shelters impose strict curfews and don't allow residents to use drugs or drink alcohol, far too many people choose instead to set up camp in Tent City.
And the easier and more comfortable Milwaukee makes that choice, the more people will continue to make it.