By the wide stretch of the American River in Sacramento, history is repeating itself. Here, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, men and women who had lost everything and despaired of finding work built rough shelters and huddled around fires.
Now the spiral of job losses and house repossessions has left another wave of Americans homeless, and a new tent city is growing rapidly on lumpy, derelict land between the river and the railway tracks here in the capital of California.
There are more than 300 people living in scattered encampments stretching a couple of miles along the river bank. As many as 50 more arrive each week. Unemployment in Sacramento reached 10.4 per cent in January and California is suffering some of the worst repossession rates in the country, with as many as 500 people losing their homes every day last year.
Charity workers in the city can no longer cope with the number of people coming to them for help. The shelters are full, with one home that caters for women and children turning away 200 people a night.
Joan Burke, director of advocacy for the homeless charity Loaves and Fishes, said: “The folks we deal with typically are the working poor. But right now the economy is in such turmoil that it is affecting a new layer of middle-class earners – construction workers, farm labourers, retail workers, restaurant staff.
“People who have earned good money but have not got any savings are finding out about the reality of being just one or two pay cheques away from becoming homeless.”