Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The plusses and minuses of reaching out to refugees in tents

I think it is worth elaborating on some of the trade-offs between "reaching out" and "hands off" with regard to refugees living in tents within my area-of-operation.

The rational for "hands off" is pretty simple. Darwin always wins in the end and we get more of what we subsidize. A stray puppy that is fed never goes away.

The rational for "reaching out" carries a lot more baggage.

If you are a practicing Christian or Jew, then Matthew 25 or Leviticus 19 should provide guidance.

If you want something outside of Biblical instruction to support that position, consider that crystals grow rapidly in super-cooled liquids because the organization of the crystal matrix minimizes potential energy.

Graphic representations of the structure of urban areas by region. European cities grew radially until they merged. American cities urbanized MUCH faster and grew in rectilinear blocks, either point-of-compass or parallel/perpendicular to slope.

Translated into English, good organization is self-perpetuating. Do you want the tent-cities to be well organized and self-policing or do you want to throw-the-dice and have a much greater risk of them being dystopian hell-holes?

Walk into the nucleus of a nascent tent-city with a couple of thermoses of coffee and a big bag of Sausage McMuffins on a cold morning, wait at the edge of camp until you are invited in and you will get a good hearing. Make sure you take a wing-man. Security is not a given and opportunists might make claims of improprieties (Luke 10).

Self-organization grows by patterns. If five tents makes a cluster than five clusters makes a team. Five teams make a group. Five groups make a zone. Five zones make a region. One region is 5^5 or over 3000 tents. That is a lot of leverage.

An aside

I was talking to a Magistrate from Shiawassee County, Michigan. At one point, the conversation turned to the issue of people shooting dogs.

It was the Magistrate's experience that property owners very rarely shot dogs trespassing on their property. He attributed it to the fact that property owners understood the shit-storm it could unleash.

Most dogs that got shot were by people VISITING the property or were guests of the property owner.

The Magistrate speculated that the guests were freer to act because they did not need to stick around and face the fall out. He also speculated that guests were operating under a much more primitive rules-of-engagement and saw themselves as protecting the owner's property and validating their (the guest's) right to be there.

The reality is that the tenants of a hobo-city have far better information regarding who-is-doing-what and have far fewer inhibitions regarding enforcement of consequences than the society they are embedded within.

The choice is binary

Let the communities evolve without meaningful dialog with the society they are embedded within.

Or establish lines of communication and supply cost-effective-support while communicating expectations (or guard-rails) regarding the behaviors that the greater community will tolerate.


  1. Maybe things have changed.
    I met some people living in their cars, while still working and functioning.
    EVERY person I met in camps ( several thousand) over 15 years had mental health issues, and self medicated on drugs or alcohol.
    Stay away from them.

  2. Still struggling with the tension. College town here has a homeless shelter, observed one resident, who looked an awful lot like me, make the trek across town, saw him later at his post, cardboard in hand. A charitable count of help wanted signs he passed by would number in the teens.
    And I know men of faith who are menally and emotionally incapable of managing life in an increasingly impersonal and technological society.
    I would submit the notion that as a nearly universal truth, people who find themselves homeless are there, not for lack of 'stuff', but are critically lacking in functional human relationships.
    The clans that are assembling here will sorely test that, it may well pit clan them vs.clan us, I pray daily for God to give me wisdom, and make preparation to preserve and protect those who depend on me.
    Interesting times
    East of Paris ...


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