Sisters and Brothers: Prepare Yourselves!

This Covid-19 Disaster Has Just Begun, Unless…

This primal scream will be heard in communities far and wide. Photo Diane Nilan

You probably pictured what’s going to happen when the stay-at-home regs are lifted and we can all head to our favorite head trimmer. Long line. Exhausted stylists. Great tips.

What about when local recyclers reopen? We environmentally-concerned households have been faithfully stacking glass, aluminum cans and cardboard in our garages. Now we’ll gleefully dance to our soon-to-be deluged recycling location and do our feeble part to save Mother Earth.

A few of us are quite worried about another pandemic “accumulation,” that of bodies, still alive, but without a place to go. In many communities, families and youth (I’m going to focus on them because that’s my gig) have found refuge in motels, or have been somehow assisted so they wouldn’t be wandering our empty streets spreading covid-19 germs. For weeks, some have enjoyed sleeping in a real bed, showering when they want/need, eating at least semi-regular meals, and relishing other comforts of home.

Hesed House, Aurora, IL Photo by Diane Nilan

The response to families/youth experiencing homelessness varied across the country. My former hometown of Aurora, which boasts the 2nd largest homeless shelter in Illinois, appears to have done a stellar job hunkering down and preventing a massive outbreak of coronavirus among their homeless guests. I’ve been following Ryan Dowd, the head of Hesed House, on his short but impassioned daily updates. They’ve gone from utilizing every available spot to provide the distance required to protect folks, to moving everyone into a suburban hotel to really get a grip on isolation.

They’re moving back to the shelter (that I ran for 13 years), located in the former municipal incinerator. I’m sure they’ll continue to take every precaution to keep everyone safe. I’d say those under the care of this devoted staff are darn lucky.

But now true compassion will be tested, not just in Aurora. Costs to provide these extra layers of care and isolation were not budgeted, and maybe the federal stimulus dollars will ease some of the burden. Those expenses pale compared to what’s now needed. As this pandemic was exploding a few weeks ago, my colleague Yvonne Vissing and I made an introductory post in Medium on what needs to happen. Yeah. That was nothing….

The good ol’ days…

What will need to happen, soon, will be a huge shift from the status quo — skyrocketing numbers of families and others becoming homeless BEFORE covid-19. Many struggled to make it on their own before everything crumbled, in lieu of the absent assistance. Now they’ll be expected to resume their personal responsibility. Those who lost their jobs and place to live in the global economic meltdown that’s occurred will need help. Those who lived on the edge of homelessness, maybe having just crawled out before this disaster struck, teeter precariously.

Pre-corona, our nation had over 140 million people living on the bottom rung of our economy. Millions of families, youth and adults were homeless.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly ten million extremely low- and very low-income renter households were severely housing-cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on rent. These households have virtually no margin for an unexpected expense,” points out the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s latest fact sheet.

NLIHC, led by @DianeYentel is part of the “Opportunity Starts at Home” campaign, an unprecedented broad base of leading national organizations concerned about housing, health care, education, civil rights, food security, environmental protection, criminal justice, and more. They are making a strong case for an eye-popping $200 BILLION appropriation to alleviate the catastrophic reality for millions if strong provisions are not made.

I could yada-yada readers with my passion about why this is so important. I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years, including the past 15 years of traveling cross-country to chronicle family and youth homelessness for my nonprofit HEAR US Inc. Instead, I’ve pulled a variety of statements from the April 27th Opportunity Starts at Home press release:

  • Mike Koprowski, National Director of the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign. “Because of the coronavirus and the associated economic shocks, these numbers are likely to grow dramatically. If Congress does not provide the urgent resources needed to address housing instability, the consequences will be far-reaching and long-lasting. An unmitigated surge in evictions and homelessness would worsen public health risks, place more strain on our hospital systems, and further increase hardship for individuals and families, especially low-income children whose lives and learning progress have already been upended by school closures.”
  • Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “When hundreds of thousands are left without homes during this public health emergency — and with millions more on the cusp of eviction and homelessness — we can’t as a country truly contain the pandemic.”
  • Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association. “We know that these issues are felt more sharply for Black, Latino, Indigenous and poor families. Having families and students worried about where they will sleep at night — or if they will have a safe place to sleep — makes it even more challenging to focus on school related work and distance learning.”
  • Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers. “Especially in the throes of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the vital importance of stable, affordable housing for CHC patients and their families has never been more pressing, or more important.”
  • Luis Guardia, President of the Food Research & Action Center. “In every corner of the country, an alarming number of people are increasingly facing impossible decisions like paying to put food on the table or paying to keep a roof over their head. Federal action is needed now to meet the pressing needs of people experiencing homelessness and housing instability and to boost the SNAP maximum benefit by 15 percent.”
  • Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Lack of housing options is why many people with mental illness end up on the streets and in jails, putting them at higher risk for coronavirus. People living with mental illness are particularly vulnerable because they need stability to recover which isn’t possible without a roof over your head.”
  • Myra Jones-Taylor, Chief Policy Officer at ZERO TO THREE. “Like an earthquake, this pandemic has disrupted everyone without prejudice and magnified the vulnerabilities within our systems to support families. Now our most over-burdened and under resourced families must brace for the impending economic tsunami that will disproportionately impact those that cannot make it to higher ground. Babies and families urgently need policies in support of housing security designed to protect them during this crisis and into the future.”
  • Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs. “Families unable to pay rent for two or more months and then suddenly required to pay up will be evicted, plunged into debt, or both. We cannot allow depression-level conditions to dig a hole families cannot escape.”

Their website, www.opportunityhome.org, has plenty of info and action steps.

Tired, crying baby. Photo by Diane Nilan

I have to say I’m tired of soaring family/youth homelessness. I’ve seen too much. I’m not nearly as tired of it as those who find themselves in that predicament. Maybe you’re close to it, or maybe you care about those who are.

If this $200 billion doesn’t get channeled to address widespread homelessness, and instead goes to the top of the food chain, we can count on a tsunami of families, youth and adults overwhelming our communities large and small.

The past 2 months of stay-at-home will be considered a picnic.

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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