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Labor Camps
During the Depression, many programs were started to aid the situation of the migrant workers and the other unemployed. Some programs dealt with housing and work for single men, others worked with families. The combination of all these programs was still not enough to house all the needy people in California. Many facilities were simply over run by the number of people needing service or a place to live. Farmers sometimes allowed people to camp while they were harvesting the crops. This practice often led to “squatter camps” where people simply began living next to rivers or streams in thrown together shacks or trailers. These squatter camps usually had no sanitary facilities like toilets or showers. Most washing was done in the creek or perhaps an irrigation ditch. This was also likely to be the source of the water for the family.
Forestry Camps/Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camps
In 1931 and 1932, the California State Department of Forestry set up camps for single men who would normally receive relief from local counties. The men were sent to the camps where they worked 6 hours per day and were given food, shelter and tobacco. The men created fire breaks and worked on roads in the national forest and on some private lumber company locations. They were also given up to $10 a month for personal expenses or for sending back to their families. None of the camps operated longer than 6 months at a time so men only stayed there during times of low employment, usually fall winter. These camps were replaced by CCC camps in 1934
Farm Camps
Some farmers tried to provide housing for their more permanent workers. They would build small houses for their employees to live with their families. Usually, these houses would be insufficient to house large number of workers during the harvest. The extra workers sometimes commuted from town or stayed in squatter camps nearby.
During the 1920s, men who rode the railroad cars from place to place were called hoboes. They often camped together near a river or near a railyard. They often tried to hide the camps so the police or sheriff would not run them out. During the depression, these hobo “jungles” grew to include destitute families who were waiting for work in agriculture. These areas eventually came to be known as “Hoovervilles” named after President Hoover who was president when the depression started. Some were later called Roosevelt Roosts, after President Roosevelt. Most of these camps had no running water or any sewage facilities. Buildings were generally made from materials found nearby. Few real houses were found in these Hoovervilles.
Government Camps
The federal government created two camps in California for migrant workers. These were to set an example for other camps. The camps were run by the people living there-they made their own rules and enforced them. Many facilities were available-washing machines, hot showers, sewing rooms, adequate housing for a family. There was always a group waiting to be part of these camps, but not many other camps were created to follow the example.
Destruction of Camps
The presence of a number of unemployed people in one area, especially with little prospect for getting money, made many townspeople nervous. They were eager to get rid of the squatter camps near them. Because of the lack of sanitation, diseases could easily spread through the camps. Often pressure was brought on the authorities to eliminate or burn the squatter camps.
In California, relief workers tried to get people to go back to where they had someone to help them- perhaps their home state or county. If they had not lived in California for 3 years or more, they were not eligible for State relief. Often people worked in fields for as much of the year as they could, then they received relief for the balance of the year. Some farmers believed that this would cause the workers to not want to work on farms if the government paid them a relief stipend. Since some wages were extremely low (15 cents per hour when the prevailing wage was supposed to be 25 cents.) some people on relief did refuse the jobs. This led to much confusion about the relief program. It also led some farmers to avoid hiring people receiving relief because they believed the people on relief would not be as eager to work as the migrant workers.

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