The Tent Class: From the City of Angels to the City of Tents

tent class

Society has always divided itself into class structures. Rich and poor, slave and free man is not a new concept and has been around since Aristotle. Karl Marx does not have the trademark on dividing people into the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.  

“The concept of social class was not a creation of Marxism.  In ancient Greece, for example, Aristotle divides society into slaves and free men (in fact, even in Egypt there are documents posing the existence of classes in society). In his Politics he divides citizens into the poor, the middle class, and the rich. In the same work he sets up relationships between forms of government and the predominance of certain social classes.”

Dos Santos, T. (1970). The Concept of Social Classes. Science & Society, 34(2), 166-193. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from

Although I hardly wonder if Marx could have envisioned a whole new class of human populating a first world country in the kind of numbers that might define it as its own class. I’m referring to the homeless population or specifically what I will dub “the tent class”  that has emerged alongside million dollar neighborhoods and commercial shopping districts. 

“The key to understanding Marx is his class definition.1 A class is defined by the ownership of property. Such ownership vests a person with the power to exclude others from the property and to use it for personal purposes.”

With the above premise in mind then a homeless person living in their tent becomes their own class and their tent is their personal property. 

“In relation to property there are three great classes of society: the bourgeoisie (who own the means of production such as machinery and factory buildings, and whose source of income is profit), landowners (whose income is rent), and the proletariat (who own their labor and sell it for a wage).”

“Class thus is determined by property, not by income or status.” 

“The force transforming latent class membership into a struggle of classes is class interest. Out of similar class situations, individuals come to act similarly. They develop a mutual dependence, a community, a shared interest interrelated with a common income of profit or of wages. From this common interest classes are formed, and for Marx, individuals form classes to the extent that their interests engage them in a struggle with the opposite class.”

If we follow this thinking then the homeless/tent population are in fact their own class erecting tent neighborhoods on available open spaces. Soon enough a neighborhood is formed and people are reliant on one another in the same way you or I are reliant on our next door neighbors. 

The problem is it’s tragic. The loss of the social safety net or the lack of one in the first place that gave rise to this ever expanding social class in a city like Los Angeles (and in the United States) is unconscionable. 

June 16, 2021 was the first time I went to Venice Beach in about 18 months. The occasion was my daughter’s birthday but the first stop was a trance dance event pre sundown on the beach at Rose Ave near the water’s edge. 

I had already begun to feel the transmutation in the “air” and surreal qualities in the surrounding neighborhood while I was looking for street parking. I couldn’t bring myself to park my car in front of someone’s tent – as if I was parking in someone’s driveway. I made it a point to park alongside ‘just’ sidewalk. Nor would we walk on the sidewalk once we parked, staying in the street – for the few scattered tents pitched on the sidewalk made me feel as if the sidewalk was someone’s front lawn and I wanted to respect that right to privacy. I noticed a cat litter box with extremely fresh litter alongside one tent on the sidewalk. My own cat would be envious. 

I was more startled by the line of large winnebagos parked along one of the main streets. My daughter informed me that homeless people lived in those, too. 

Why I thought those were “industry” vehicles I do not know. As if there was filming going on. There should be, to bring awareness. I guess I’ve been in isolation too long or I did not want to admit to myself what I already knew – that inside those vehicles were the “lucky ones”.   

I suppose there are class levels even within the tent class. This rank has wheels, walls, and a potty of sorts, even if it is a motor home. 

But, I did not expect an entire neighborhood of tents to assault my nervous system the moment we crossed onto the path that led to the sand. I felt like I slid between the cracks of two parallel worlds.  And so I did

We in this city, in this country of Amazon Prime, electric cars, Uber Eats, and tech gone wild have lost a humanity in our polarization from each other in all matters that count – and at all levels of society through to the great political divide that allows this to happen on their watch.  

It is not like I have not seen homeless encampments. I have been through Skid Road in Downtown Los Angeles. I am aware of how Sepulveda in the Mar Vista neighborhood has become more populated with folks who have nowhere else to go. I can’t explain why this particular encampment hit me so hard. 

Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of a tent community against the backdrop of what once was (or might still be) the tourist and bike path destination of Los Angeles – the City of Angeles – where everybody comes for a good time and to get lost in the LaLa Land fantasy and bask in the California sunshine while showing off as much toned skin as is legal to do so. Where the beachfront cafes used to bristle with folks sipping margaritas and munching on chips and guacamole while gazing across through the throngs of bikinis and muscles and vendors selling incense and painted peace signs to the water out yonder. 

Now the view is obstructed by a scene as biting as the cold ocean itself at first dunk. Then like the coldness of the water the senses adjust. But this is not a swim in the ocean. There should be no adjusting to the harshness of this reality. It does not disappear because we no longer shiver in its presence. 

Most people do not realize that many people are a paycheck away from homelessness.

Imagine all the reasons that folks live on the edge when there is no social safety net and savings are slim or wages are slimmer:

a doctor bill, a car repair, a job change for any reason, a divorce, a death, domestic violence, a roommate moving out, a vet bill, retirement, rising rents, income does not meet rental requirements, losing social services or a reduction in benefits, not enough benefits, or any other number of reasons that people fall under hard times and there is either no social safety net or the social safety is grossly inadequate to the point of homelessness.  

But the truth is the numbers are rising in Los Angeles. 

“Across Los Angeles, the homelessness crisis is reaching epic proportions. There are over 58,000 people across Los Angeles County who are experiencing homelessness, a 12% increase from 2018.”

“Between soaring housing costs and wages that can’t keep up with the high-cost of living, more people are falling into homelessness for the first time. You see, 6 out of 10 people experiencing homelessness are now without housing for the first time — many citing economic hardship as a significant factor.”

“When you look around Skid Row and greater Los Angeles, you see countless people living in tents, make-shift shelters and their vehicles. The hard truth is that 75% of people experiencing homelessness lack permanent shelter and have to make due with whatever they can find.”

The numbers are rising in the country.

“Homelessness in America was on the rise even before the coronavirus pandemic dramatically dragged down the economy, according to a government report.”

“The Housing and Urban Development Department’s annual report on homelessness provides a snapshot of the number of homeless people, both sheltered and unsheltered, in America on a single night. The one-night counts are conducted during the last 10 days of January each year, and the new report shows that 580,466 people experienced homelessness in the United States on a single night in January 2020 — an increase of 12,751 people, or 2.2 percent, from 2019.”

“Newly confirmed HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement Thursday the results were “very troubling.” She added: “What makes these findings even more devastating is that they are based on data from before COVID-19, and we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse.”

I do not know what the answer is. Awareness is always helpful and so that is why I decided to write this article. Awareness is what compelled me to infringe on folk’s privacy while my daughter and her friends were trance dancing where the foam kissed the sand. So, I took a walk through the parallel world of this new emerging class structure and took pictures because as the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words.  So I will end this article here with a picture tour through the Venice Beach Tent Community.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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