April may bring showers, but it also brings a reprieve, albeit short-lived, to those on the edge of homelessness when the tax refund check comes in.
Matt Desmond, the authoritive voice of forgotten households who know the knock of the sheriff with eviction papers, preaches the brutal Gospel of Housing Injustice.
Desmond’s in depth research and his period of being embedded in impoverished Milwaukee neighborhoods give him the cred that an unpopular spokesperson needs. His passion for this despised issue makes him a hero to me. His best-selling (downer) book, Evicted, should be required reading for every elected official across the land. Lest one dismiss Milwaukee as an aberration, think again.
Evictions in Richmond, VA takes “homelessness creation” to a new level. And this New York Times article provides details about evictions that will bring this issue close to home — yours.
In my shelter running days, I’d detect a murmur of hope and excitement in our overcrowded facility in March. It was March Madness of another kind — when a handful of “lucky” folks started planning for what to do with their tax refund. (Yes, many were poor working stiffs, flipping burgers, pouring coffee, making change, changing sheets, etc.)
Aurora, IL, the 2nd largest city in Illinois, where our former municipal incinerator shelter is located, had a theoretical ample supply of affordable housing, but competition was tough for the most affordable housing stock. And scammers have stepped up their efforts to take advantage of desperate renter-wanna-bes.
At least a couple people they heard from said the scam was asking for $50 to hold a spot on the wait list, Godinez said. She said they don’t know how many people paid or gave their information to the website.
The Section 8 list is hard to get on, so when people see it’s open they’ll rush to get their names in. Godinez said her first reaction to the scam was shock, then anger. (Aurora Beacon News, 11/13/17)
To succeed in the housing seeking challenge, renters can’t have these barriers:
- Bad credit
- Felony record (of anyone in the household)
- Previous eviction
They also typically needed a chunk of change for utility deposits, first/last month rent and other basics. Many rental agencies require an application fee, often tied to how many adults and pets would possibly be in the household.
Byron, a father from Idaho, explained to me how the application fee impacted his search for housing for his family (listen to him on my 4-min video).
Affordable Housing, The Out-of-Reach Solution
Affordable housing, the major fix in the fight to end homelessness, continues to vex desperate renters. Subsidized housing, already dreadfully scarce, will be further eroded as this current administration slashes public assistance.
CityLabs published an interactive map showing how each state fares for rental units for households with extremely low incomes (ELI). It’s ugly. Another Diane explains:
“The problem is not that low-income people aren’t working hard enough,” said Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of NLIHC. “The problem, rather, is that many jobs don’t pay enough for low-income people to afford to pay the rent.”
Sadly, only the lucky and strong will last in rental housing. The eviction cloud hangs low over those temporarily-happy formerly homeless households. They know the drill —
- a few months’ respite from the insanity of their local shelter (if they’re lucky enough to have one),
- then the eviction notice,
- decide if it’s possible to get caught up,
- get denied for the request for housing assistance because of lack of funds,
- hang on as long as possible,
- then bail.
Returning to homelessness is one of the hardest things to do from what all my homeless friends have told me.
Parents feel like a failure, not being able to provide for their families. Crowded shelters, if they can be re-admitted, are a last resort. Getting “creative” usually puts them in danger of running afoul of local laws. Camping or sleeping in cars gets old when people don’t want you around. It’s a depressing scenario, one playing out in your community.
The Importance of Housing Stability, and Education, for Kids
If we’re ever going to stem the surging tide of homelessness, we need to make sure the kids are taken care of, something that doesn’t happen when they’re being bounced around in various homelessness situations.
Finally we’re starting to pay attention to the impact of trauma on kids (and adults). Expecting all kids to suck it up and succeed is unrealistic. The traumas interwoven into homelessness must be considered and addressed before we can expect kids to succeed in school.
We know we need to do more to address and resolve the psychological and emotional issues stemming from homelessness. Today, discussions of homelessness among educators and advocates are finally beginning to include the effects of trauma and adverse childhood experiences. More communities are finding ways to provide wrap-around services at schools; homeless student liaisons can provide schools and community-based organizations with important perspectives on where homeless students attend school, how to identify homeless students, and how to best support them. But these efforts are far from complete. (The Silent Crisis: Student Homelessness on the Anniversary of the 30th Anniversary of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act)
Housing stability. We take those words for granted. Try to imagine life without it. I’ll leave you with a the challenge to watch my award-winning compelling short video, My Own Four Walls, featuring kids from across the country talking about homelessness and school.
If you don’t think this is an under-addressed, vital issue after watching and listening to these kids, I don’t know what else to do to convince you. But I’ll keep trying.