Tonight, an increasing number of Canadians face the prospect of sleeping in a tent — not to welcome the summer camping season, but as a last resort. Unlike regulated campgrounds, “tent cities” are without electricity, water and often bathrooms. These makeshift encampments appear to be on the rise with Winnipeg and Nanaimo being two recent examples of desperate people sharing large outdoor spaces that lack basic amenities.

These camps, as well as others in Canada and the United States, have drawn increased media and political attention, perhaps in part due to their prominent locations. For Winnipeg, the tent city is on the grounds of a church near the Provincial Legislature. In Nanaimo, the prospect of passenger ships welcomed by “homeless” campers appeared to raise eyebrows and ire in local media stories.

More important are pressing questions about what to do with such camps, including concerns over their legality — and the outright safety of inhabitants.