Anarchists in Tents: What Homelessness Teaches Us about Society
Recently, I received tickets to go see a first-look of a local St. Louis filmmaker’s directorial debut; a film titled “Living in Tents.”
The film follows three “tent cities” in the St. Louis area where homeless citizens live together and support each other through the seasons.
Sparta, one of these cities, is led by the main character, named Wulf, who’s only demand, was to keep drugs out of the camp. Another city, Hopeville, had a woman with the title of mayor.
All the buildings were built by the residents from any scraps of wood they could find, usually wood and canvas.
While some of the residents expressed that they were homeless due to hard times and hoped to get out, just as many, the main believer being Wulf, detailed how they wanted to be outdoors and off the grid. Wulf even joked how the food he would gather and make in the woods was better than one of St. Louis’ shelters. Another couple, Bonnie and David, stated towards the end of the film that they missed the little home they had built in Sparta.
It was that detail that truly rocked me; that there were people who wanted to live this way but, because of the city’s war on homelessness, they kept offering programs to get them out and subsequently tore down their cities.
St. Louis officials were combating homelessness by saying that this is no way for people to live and taking away their homes.
The city gave these residents an apartment, rent and utility free for one year, in hopes that it would allow these people to find a job and be able to support themselves after the year was up. Unfortunately, 75% of those who were given apartments were back on the streets after the year.
Frankly, I loved this film and there are an immense amount of lessons that I felt could be taken from it regarding government intervention, the power of love, support of the average citizen, and how people will organize themselves to help each other without a central authority.
As previously mentioned, the film follows St. Louis’ continued attempts at trying to keep these homeless citizens safe and get them out by using methods that uprooted them and ultimately led to them returning to the streets.
Hopeville was originally in an abandoned tunnel that was due for demolition, but government officials felt that the area was unsafe and made the residents relocate.
The argument throughout was whether or not allowing these people to live like this, and have volunteers come to donate and assist, was making the problem worse by enabling them.
My thoughts, honestly, were “why does it matter!”
“If they want to be here and they aren’t bothering anyone?”
Those who came to fix the homeless residents’ homes, or bring food and clothing, seemed to be doing more than the government who continually made the “homeless” leave their homes.
People with large hearts did more for them than an agency.
Blake, another resident of Sparta, was able to have a home and a family to help him fight his addiction and mental issues because someone was willing to take him in and treat him like a son.
He stated “They’re like a mom and dad. That sounds weird for a 50 year old going on 20, but it’s like having a mom and dad, for real…something I haven’t had in years bro”.
Wulf was also able to receive assistance after being kicked out of his tent city, because of his friendship with the director of the film. Eventually, he did decide to become “homeless” again and live in the woods. It’s an inspiring message on the power of individuals over government.
The final thing that amazed me was the amount of cooperation and support the tent city residents required in order to survive.
Bonnie and David were taught how to cook, among other survival skills, when they first arrived in Sparta; and Wulf, knowing that many homeless people have habits of addiction, tried to create an environment where they could thrive by not allowing drugs.
Wulf had moved to Sparta after getting into a fight with residents of Hopeville, demonstrating how disputes can be settled through non-violent means.
This does not mean that the cities were completely separate from local law enforcement, when someone was stabbed attempting to steal another Hopeville citizen’s property, the police were called to intervene (which unfortunately led to Hopeville being destroyed).
Tent cities were the first example I had seen of a potential modern anarchist society.
Though I’m still convinced some sort of small, controlled central authority is best for society, I think the stories of the people in “Living In Tents” demonstrates that in order for us to have a peaceful society, we must allow people to live in the society’s they wish even if it goes against our preconceived notions of society.
My conception of the word “homeless” was altered after seeing this film.
Truthfully, it’s not that the citizens of Sparta and Hopeville didn’t have homes; they just didn’t have homes that most people would deem acceptable. It was an interesting thought experiment into privilege and how what works for us may not work for everyone.
To learn more about the film, please consider visiting their website and donating.
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