Tis’ the Season to Selectively Enforce Camping Bans

why aren't there camping bans on black friday

Will This Be the Year We See Mass Sweeps of Black Friday Encampments?

The leaves have turned, a chill is in the air, and it’s already started snowing in some places. Soon, a crowd of excited shoppers will descend on their favorite stores, camping out overnight on the pavement in front of them all for a chance to snag the season’s biggest savings. Or a trampling injury – whichever comes first.

But on every other day of the year, this kind of “unruly behavior” is heavily criticized and criminalized in cities across America. The only difference tonight is who’s doing the camping. The people who leave their Thanksgiving celebrations early with a belly full of turkey, voluntarily forsaking their warm bed for the night in favor of spending some disposable income on a bevy of material goods are not the sort of people police are interested in fining or arresting for camping in public.

Apparently, it’s only a crime to camp in public if you have no other choice but to do so.

A Tale of Two Encampments

It’s not like Black Friday encampments are one-night-only, understated affairs, either. Many people who’ve made a tradition out of pre-Black Friday camping have large setups that start earlier and earlier each year. 

One enthusiast sets up his campsite two full weeks before the big day. He decks it out with a generator, hammock, flat-screen TV, fully decorated Christmas tree, and a tiki bar. And that’s just one person’s setup. That has got to be more of a “public nuisance” than a few unhoused people in tents just trying to get by.

Businesses Are Suddenly Very Quiet

All of this is especially rich, considering the business community is often the first to speak out about unhoused people camping near their establishments and “scaring away” their potential customers.

Knowing how heartless this sounds, they’ll usually try to dress up their complaints with pseudo-compassionate language like, “no one should have to sleep outside.” 

But, as soon as the campers are reasonably likely to drop a good chunk of change in your store, it all becomes ok, and you’ve got nothing more to say on the matter. Very interesting.

The Selective Enforcement Is Very Telling

The fact that police and NIMBYs alike are selectively enforcing the camping bans only against certain groups of people tells us all we need to know about their intentions in making them.

This was never about camping. It was simply about punishing poor people for being poorespecially if they dared to be poor in your neighborhood or anywhere within your line of sight.

All the talking points about camping in public spaces not designed for camping being unsafe or unsanitary were just palatable lies since Black Friday encampments can be all of those things, too, and no one is calling for the arrest of deal hunters.

Public camping is only enforced as a crime if you’re poor enough not to be able to do it the fancy, socially acceptable way – just as we’ve seen happen with #vanlife versus houseless vehicle dwellers without the $100,000-plus Mercedes Sprinter van conversions. 

So, let’s go over the facts one more time.

People living below the poverty line, camping out in modest conditions as a last resort, is considered dangerous and unacceptable and must be punished with police intervention. On the other hand, affluent people camping out with luxurious setups are considered aspirational, acceptable, and to be expressing true freedom.

The only difference between these two scenarios is how much they cost. These camping bans are very transparent about the fact that they’re only really enforced against homeless people.

This blatant discrimination is incredibly unethical, exposes the biases of our society as a whole, and keeps unhoused people locked in a cycle of homelessness where they can never get ahead due to the constant barriers in their way.

So, Should We Ban Black Friday Camping?

The solution to this problem is not to start rounding up Black Friday campers and fining them. Rather, let’s just all acknowledge that if we can tolerate shoppers voluntarily camping out in front of stores, allowing homeless encampments to exist in peace when there are no better options isn’t the end of the world. After all, a group of tents tucked away under a highway overpass, or similar location is much less intrusive to your day-to-day life than a garish tailgating setup blocking the way into your local Walmart or Target.

Blanket Enforcement Would Still Have Differing Effects

But let’s pretend for a moment that rather than taking these unhelpful camping bans off the books, we decided to enforce them across the board in the interest of “fairness.” The consequences would still burden poor people more.

Think about it. In many cities, a citation for violating camping bans is a fine. Because we don’t assess fines on a sliding scale based on income in this country, that fine – whatever the amount may be – will be much more burdensome to an unhoused person struggling to survive than to a Black Friday shopper with money to spend on not only shopping but also outfitting an extravagant camping setup each year.

That’s why we need to eliminate these asinine camping bans entirely. If we’re not going to ensure that everyone has safe, permanent housing available to them, we at least shouldn’t tear apart the shelter they manage to secure for themselves. 

For a country that’s so into the idea of personal freedoms, there sure are a lot of restrictions on where certain people are allowed to live. Nothing screams “land of the free” like not being legally able to exist in any place without being an adequate source of profit for some other person or corporation. 

You can bet that the moment Black Friday shoppers stop being profitable for the businesses they’re camped out in front of, they’ll be given the boot too.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

Related Topics

Get the Invisible People newsletter


80 years old and homeless veteran in Los Angeles needs help


Displaced - social impact fim

Displaced: When Surviving Homelessness is a Crime

Homeless man sitting on sidewalk near Skid Row Los Angeles


homeless woman in Grants Pass



poverty shelter podolsky brothers

From Slumlords to Millionaires: The Podolsky Brothers’ Reign of Poverty

landlord murders child

Landlord Murders 6-Year-Old Muslim Boy in Heinous Hate Crime

Homeward Bound programs for homeless people

San Francisco Sending Homeless People Anywhere But Here

McPherson Park sweeps and impact of Encampment guide

Advocates Alarmed Over New USICH Encampment Guide 

Get the Invisible People newsletter