Tarp Nation: Squatter Villages and Tent Cities in the Economic Crisis

Camping for their lives


| September-October, 2009



Squatter City

image by Reuters / Max Whittaker

Marie And Francisco Caro needed a home after they got married, but like many people in California’s Central Valley, they didn’t have enough money to sign a lease or take out a mortgage.

They were tired of sleeping on separate beds in crowded shelters, so they found a slice of land alongside the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in downtown Fresno. The soil was sandy and dry, prone to rising up into clouds when the autumn winds came. All around, farm equipment factories and warehouses loomed out of the dust, their walls coarse and sun-bleached like desert mountainsides.

Even a strong person could wither in a place like this, but if they wanted to build a home, nobody was likely to stop them. So Marie and Francisco gathered scrap wood and took their chances. They raised their tarp roof high like a steeple, then walled off the world with office cubicle dividers. Thieves stayed outside and so did the wind, and the sound of the passing freight trains softened.

When I visited the Caros in January, a fire burned in a repurposed oil barrel, warming the cool air, and fresh-cut Christmas tree boughs hung on the walls for decoration.

While Francisco chopped wood, Marie confided that she wants to live somewhere else. All she needs is a modest place with a sink and a gas stove, she said, maybe even a television. But until times change, she said, she’ll be happy in her self-made abode, cooking on top of the oil barrel, making meals with whatever food God brings.

“He gives us bread,” said Marie, a Fresno native who quit school in the 10th grade, ashamed of a learning disability that got in the way of her reading. “I’m just waiting for my home.”

bill in oregon_1
9/20/2009 4:54:39 PM

Funny how you at Utne insist that those making Comments here must not " try to publish "offensie materials" here. Yet you have ruined a perfectly helpful article here about the dire needs of the homeless (Camping for their Lives) with a very prominent advertisement by 'SmittenKitten.com' which features a graphic of a dildo and the word masturbation. I would have FWD'ed this fine news article to about 800 people on my list if you had not put a dildo next to it. How ridiculously umm... offensive. Bill and my liberal friends in Oregon