Story: The Return of the Hooverville: Car and Tent Cities on the Rise in San Francisco


Radio journalist Thea Chroman has produced a two part series on the return of the Hooverville. It was one of the first pieces to be funded on Spot.Us and was done in collaboration with KALW and Roxbury News which provided editorial and photographic support.

San Francisco’s per capita homeless rate has long been the highest in the country. But in the past year, it shot up 40 percent, by some measures. The increase came as foreclosures put pressure on the rental market, the budget crisis slowed aid, and the job market tightened up.

The face of the homeless population is changing, too: the newly unemployed and the working poor -- are finding themselves out on the street. And the lines for affordable housing grow ever longer. Some families wait years to get a section 8 voucher, and while they wait, they sleep in their cars, on the streets, or, in an emergency shelter – that is, if they can get a bed.

In the first chapter of a two-part series on homelessness in California, Thea Chroman introduces us to a family staying at San Francisco’s Providence emergency shelter.

Listen to part one with Thea Chroman.

Listen to part two with Thea Chroman supported by photographs

Fresno, CA has the highest levels of concentrated poverty in the nation. In some neighborhoods, nearly half of all residents are living below the federal poverty line. Over the past year, many of those poor residents have slipped out of housing completely. Now shanty towns are springing up along the railroad tracks, an image that recalls shanty towns of a different era: the so-called Hoovervilles of the Great Depression.

Photos by David Torch

External Links

Part 1

Part 2


homeless, poverty, housing, urban, economic downturn


  • But why didn't you let the city of fresno weigh in? Especially after you accused them of turning a blind eye? Good journalism has to be about more than pity pictures and sad anecdotes. Give the guy a chance to tell you what he's doing. And let him offer real-world stats for context. Give both sides a chance.

  • I tend to agree with you - but I think this story was more about capturing people whose lives are in turmoil right now. And in that respect - I think Thea did a great job. Journalism is about connecting people and telling stories that are true. That Thea didn't talk to city officials doesn't make the plight of those she did speak with any less real or touching.

  • for a very long time and aren't "springing up"--it's irresponsible to suggest so. I haven't yet listened to the audio presentations, but the text here is not "telling stories that are true." I've been in Fresno's homeless encampments twice in the last month talking to people and working on a photojournalism project of my own -- a response to the misleading "new Hoovervile" meme that Oprah kicked off with Sacramento's "tent city" -- and talked to people who've been living there for years and years. There are more people showing up there than there were previously, but, as with Sacramento's American River Parkway encampment, the large majority of residents are chronically homeless.

  • I think you interpret "springing up" to suggest that they are brand new. But it could just as easily be that they are increasing in size - which you also say is happening.

    I don't think the reporter is suggesting that homelessness is a new phenomena. That would be absurd.

    But what she is pointing to is a noticeable increase that merits attention. The chronically homeless always deserve to have their story told and so I can see how profiling those who are recently homeless might seem like a diservice.

    But there stories are true as well. And perhaps even more alarming since they are NOT chronically homeless. In some ways - they are more newsworthy since these people are not too far removed from you or me.

    But the comments are good. I love that this piece is getting some constructive criticism. I guess it is what all Spot.Us peices will get for as long as we are a new website that other journalists are constantly analyzing.

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