In the fall of 1935, I got a job loading and unloading apples. The job paid 35 cents. My employer, Mr. Elder, was a man in his middle seventies, the owner of a large orchard of apple and peach trees. Mr. Elder drove the truck. He had a heart condition and was not suppose to lift anything over 20 lbs. I loaded 50 bushel baskets of apples onto the truck, road 60 miles to the market in Pittsburgh, and unloaded them. He was lucky to make the sale. Most of the crop rotted on the ground that year. Mr. Elder told me his total profit was less than ten dollary for the load. He also bought me a big lunch.
On the return trip Mr. Elder decided to go over by Liberty Ave. so I could see Pittsburgh's Hooverville. I have no idea how many people lived there but to a 10 year old kid, it seemed an awful lot. Men, women and children. "People here are starving Bob" Mr Elder said.
Even at that age I figured there was something horribly wrong with the system. I asked him that since most of the fruit in his orchard was going to waste, why not bring a few loads to these people. "And who would pay for the gas and the baskets." he said. I could see the problem. Folks in our immediate neighborhood were welcome to gather windfalls from his orchard and pay what they could. I helped my mother gather three or four bushels of windfall peaches that year and I think she paid Mr. Elder 50 cents. We had our own baskets.
We lived on a dirt road off the beaten track, but each year, spring to fall, one or two "hobos" a week would stop at our back door, asking for a handout and offering to do any chores that needed done. My mother always made up a plate of whatever food we had on hand and served them on the back porch. She usually had them haul water from the spring to the house. We did not have running water and it was a long jaunt to the spring. I was happy for the help because it was my job to haul water. My Great Aunt Ethel once said the "bums" had our place marked and if we stopped feeding them they would stop coming. My mother's reply was, "Aunt Ethel, I starve in the winter of 33, so I know what its like to be hungry". She ate one small meal every other day that winter but made sure I did not go hungry.
I would often sit with the men on the porch while they ate their meal. I was interested in their stories and always asked about Hoovervilles. Some of the men lived as far away as San Francisco. From what I could gather, some of the Hoovervilles were well organized with rules, volunteer police, and other town amenities, but others were jungles. In some the city police would hassel them and often the girls were victims or explotation, rape and worse, with little or no cosequence. A well organized shanty town could prevent a lot of that from happening.
About a month ago while riding the bus, I had a conversation with a fellow passenger and happened to mention "Hooverville". The result was a blank stare. This guy was in his middle fifties. I ran an experiment after that and discovered over half of the subjects of my test had no idea what I was talking about. "A town in California, right?"
The homeless in my city has increased a lot these past few months. As the lady who lives at my bus stop is fond of saying, "Home is where the cart is." What about your town? Establishing an organized Hooverville for the homeless would be a lot better than trying to herd them into a public shelter. A place where they could organize and safely store their stuff, I believe is what is needed.
Do this old man a favor and send your search engine to Hooverville plus the name of your nearest big town. I can't believe we have forgotten the Hoovervilles.