Proponents have been sounding the alarm for months – issuing reports, issuing press releases and warning politicians as more Americans who have been made unemployed by the pandemic have defaulted on their rent. Now that the warnings are not being heeded, the United States is facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis that is as predictable as it is preventable.
I first saw signs of this impending catastrophe on May 26th when the New York City markets roared – the Dow rose 530 points and the S&P hit an 11-week high. But in San Diego, Rudy and Christina Rico rummaged in a blue recycling barrel on the street. The couple, married for 37 years, hoped to scrape together $ 50 worth of bottles and cans. It meant dinner.
“I never thought I’d walk through trash cans for money,” Rudy told me as I walked down the driveway of a friend’s house where I isolated myself. “But you have to eat.” A mockingbird in a queen palm filled the silence that followed. Rudy was a landscaper until the pandemic broke out and he lost his job. He and Christina now lived out of their car. They had never been homeless before. Christina thought I would come to admonish her. “Some people get angry,” she said.
The Ricos were among the earliest waves of a crisis that has emerged since the first days of the coronavirus pandemic. As early as April, after lockdowns brought the economy to a standstill, news outlets issued warnings: “31% cannot pay the rent:” It will only get worse, “said one New York Times Heading; “Rent is due today, but millions of Americans aren’t paying,” the NPR website said the following month.
By August, a group of experts representing some of the country’s leading housing rights organizations – including the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project – came to a dire conclusion. In a white paper titled “The Covid-19 Eviction Crisis”, the consortium estimated that “in the absence of robust and rapid intervention, an estimated 30 to 40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction in the next few months”. The authors warned that “the United States may face the worst housing crisis in its history,” adding that people of color “make up about 80% of the people who are evicted.”
Tens of thousands of Americans were displaced in the months that followed; Landlords have filed more than 162,500 eviction notices in the 27 cities it tracks, according to the Eviction Lab. However, the worst of the crisis has so far been averted by a patchwork of state moratoriums, which in turn have been complemented by a patchwork of federal efforts. In March, Congress passed a temporary eviction moratorium under the CARES Act. After this period, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced their own temporary moratorium in September. Most recently, as part of the stimulus package passed at the end of December, Congress granted states and municipalities US $ 25 billion in rental support and extended the eviction moratorium to January 31. The tenants breathed a sigh of relief.
However, this relief can only be short-lived. The end date for the federal moratorium is in a few weeks’ time, and various state moratoriums are also scheduled for sunset. And the US $ 25 billion rent relief granted by Congress is critical, but it falls far short of what proponents consider necessary. But perhaps the most difficult problem is that a moratorium is not the same as rent forgiveness. This means that even if the moratoriums are renewed (and then again), tenants will at some point have to pay their landlords the entire accrued return rent. Almost 12 million households already owe an average of $ 5,850 in overdue rents and utilities, according to Moody’s Analytics. That’s $ 70 billion. How can people repay these amounts if they remain unemployed? How can they repay them even if they get a job?
Many proponents believe that only sustained, robust, and wide-ranging intervention by the US government can prevent a disaster in its entirety. Biden’s victory and the Democrats’ newly cemented control over the Senate have given them hope that help is at hand. But with Republicans still holding significant power in Congress and Democrats restrained by their own party dynamics, they can hardly breathe easy.
California, with its stratospheric housing costs, is likely to be particularly hard hit. According to the white paper, between 4.1 and 5.4 million residents are at risk of eviction. The closest states are New York with 2.8 to 3.3 million; Texas with 2.6 to 3.8 million; and Florida with 1.9 to 2.5 million. The most conservative forecast in a report by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank is that evictions will increase by 50 percent in 2021.
The Ricos suspect what will happen. They had already made a difficult choice while they waited a month and a half for Rudy’s unemployment benefit to start: Either they use the money whenever it arrived to make up for their rent, which had been suspended due to the pandemic but would be needed at some point get paid or make their car payments. They opted for the latter, also because they thought they could move in with the family.
“We went to my sister’s,” Rudy explained, “but she got the bad liver and the doctor told her she had to get everyone out of the house.” So instead, the Ricos lived in their car and slept on different streets every night to avoid the cops.
At the time, the couple, both 55, said they would likely be homeless for a long time even after Rudy returned to work. “It costs $ 3,000 to return to an apartment,” he said.
That was over seven months ago, weeks after the alarm first went off.
H.Alllessness is not a new phenomenon. It was already recorded in the Bible and appeared frequently in literature that was both curious and desperate. In 1886 Leo Tolstoy was completed What should I do?, a non-fiction meditation on poverty, inspired by a trip he made to Khitrov Market Square, Moscow’s Skid Row. A friend told Tolstoy that the poor are an “inevitable state of civilization”. Tolstoy shouted with tears in his eyes: “It is impossible to live like this … impossible!”
Tolstoy’s friend was wrong: homelessness doesn’t have to be inevitable. As persistent as it appears at certain times and places, it is little known in others. In Japan, for example, there are few people without a residence – according to the latest data from the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Welfare, only 3,992 were counted in 2018. In the United States, however, the ever-increasing number of homeless people is a choice – a choice made not by tents, but by politicians, policymakers, and of course the real estate industry.
This choice, like all decisions, has a story. It didn’t start with Covid-19, although the pandemic compounded it and pulled it towards the current extreme precipice. The origins of this election go back further – to 2017, the year the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated more than 550,000 homeless people lived in the United States; last year 2008 and the last eviction crisis; after the early years and the 1990s; and until the 1980s, the beginning of a new kind of homelessness.
There is no precise date that will mark the birth of modern homelessness, but markers are numerous. A key point is 1980, which was also the year I moved to California. After being homeless myself and living on my Datsun pickup for months, I applied to The Sacramento Bee. When I called city editor Robert Forsyth the morning after election day to see if I would be hired, he said to me, “I have good news and bad news.” I wanted the bad news first. “Reagan is president.” The good thing: My start date was November 17th. I took the pairing of my first major newspaper position with Ronald Reagan’s rise as a sign of how I would spend the next 40 years as a journalist.
I rented an apartment near the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers and would often go into the riparian forest, where there were secret sleeping places, with cardboard sheets or newspapers on the floor. Who were these people? I shared a story about her that was titled “Detox Center Is Home to Winos” in January 1981. (The word “homeless” was not yet widely used. The men who sometimes slept “in the weeds” along the river were still considered “winos”.) What I saw was the “old” kind of homelessness – mostly elderly People Men with a long history of mental illness or addiction who lived in some concentrated areas were exposed to the elements.
A short version of what came next, Reagan got down to work fulfilling a long-cherished Republican dream of dismantling the legacy of the New Deal, ushering in the neoliberal era, and increasingly revere the markets. In housing, he has cut the budget for federal programs and shifted the resulting reduced resources away from public housing and building affordable housing into vouchers for people seeking shelter in the free market. These and similar attacks on the social safety net were compounded by growing economic insecurity, partly due to stagnating wages, soaring rents, and the loss of well-paid jobs as de-industrialization ravaged Central America.
In the midst of it all, US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker tried to tame inflation through tight monetary policy, which led to a rise in interest rates. I was fortunate enough to get 12 percent interest on a mortgage on a house I bought in 1982. Volcker’s policies led to what was then the worst recession since World War II.
This economic slump set the stage for a different breed of resident American. In 1982 I rode a new generation of “hoboes” on the rails, many from the steel cities of the Midwest. These were formerly middle and working class Americans who would never have been homeless in the post-war years. But here they were. In Sacramento, I can accurately mark the week that more of these newcomers began guerrilla camping along the river. A tent city was built across from a rescue mission. The city drove them out.
“With the closure came a corresponding increase in the number of campers … along the banks of the American River, much to the annoyance of the Sacramento police who raided them last week,” I wrote in a June 13 release Story Ron Blair – typical of newbies – said to me, “I’ve paid taxes all my life. Most of the people here work every day. Why treat people like dogs? “
In November 1982 the recession officially ended. A story about the new hoboes assigned to me by Life Magazine was moved. An editor told me it was old news – we were recovering.
B.In 1983, Los Angeles attorney Gary Blasi realized the nation was in no recovery. In his view, this was the year “mass homelessness” became an integral part of the Southern California landscape. The benefits of the supposedly booming economy would not “wear off,” as Reagan had promised. In the 1980s, Blasi litigated on behalf of these newly housed individuals for the Legal Aid Foundation in Los Angeles, where he co-founded the Eviction Defense Center. In the decades that followed, he continued to work as a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles on homelessness issues, as Los Angeles emerged as an example of a new and visible kind of homelessness on the street, and tents appeared under freeway underpasses in the quasi- tropical flora that is planted at clover leaves. There was a much less visible but growing problem of homeless families with children, an issue that I address for them bee in numerous stories.
When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Blasi foresaw a disaster. In late May he published UD Day: Impending Evictions and Homelessness in Los Angeles, a study for the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. It was written in anticipation of the day when complaints about “illegal detainees” – the legal term used to describe the eviction procedure – could be re-filed in court. In April of this year, the California Judiciary Council imposed a statewide moratorium that partially prohibited “citing a court order after a landlord filed an eviction case unless necessary to protect public health and safety.” The council lifted the ban on September 1st. However, it was soon superseded by the order of the CDC.
“It has just been postponed,” said Blasi recently of the wave of evictions.
Now the city is facing a settlement. Blasi said he used very conservative calculations to determine that “120,000 Los Angeles County households, including 184,000 children, are likely to become homeless for at least some time.” At the lower end, this could mean “36,000 additional homeless households with 56,000 children”. That is a range from 100,000 to almost 400,000 people.
One reason for these five- and six-digit numbers is that, like many large metropolitan areas, Los Angeles has a high rate of rental households – 54 percent live in rental apartments, according to 2019 estimates by the Census Bureau. (In New York City, tenants make up 67 percent of households, while in neighboring Newark the number has risen to nearly 78 percent.) “The road we’re on,” said Blasi, “will be the greatest mass displacement of people be in an area of United States in history. “
As to what will happen to this multitude haunts proponents like Mel Tillekeratne, executive director of the Los Angeles nonprofit Shower of Hope. The organization runs one of the region’s “safe parking programs” that operate secure parking spaces where people living in their cars can drive up and sleep. Tillekeratne told me what other nonprofit service providers are saying: They are preparing for a flood of unhoused people.
“We all know from Professor Gary Blasi’s report that there will be an enormous influx of homeless people,” said Tillekeratne. “The county of LA – and not just the county, the entire state, and this country – needs to look at this: How do we work to maximize rapid resettlement?”
Without a quick remodeling plan, the tens of thousands evicted from their homes will have to fend for themselves. Some might be lucky enough to end up with family or friends, doubling or tripling in already crowded homes. Others may join some of the nearly 16,000 people who already use their vehicles as shelters in Los Angeles County. People who cling to their cars, like the Ricos in San Diego and a woman named Aida I met in the secure parking lot, who worked but couldn’t afford rent. While sleeping on the street is an option, relatively few of the displaced end up in a tent immediately. There are many steps to this grim final phase. The descent into the madness of homelessness is a process.
IIn 1986 I was driving a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 with 152,300 miles on the odometer, heading west on Hollywood Boulevard. I was in the passenger seat. It was late fall and I had come to Los Angeles to tell a story about hunger in California. I had heard of a new phenomenon where people with jobs live off their cars. I had just met Wayne in a soup kitchen. He had been fired from an oil field job in Texas and had come to California to look for work. On the dashboard sat a roll of rolls the size of a fist that had been snatched from a soup kitchen. His belongings were in the back seat: two suits made of clear plastic, shiny black wingtip shoes, and a painting that had hung in his Houston home.
Every night Wayne parked on a different street to avoid the cops. He had come to California thinking he had enough money to rent. “Look, I could get an apartment in Houston for $ 250,” he said. “I mean a good place. I went to a place here that was worse than a rat hole. And they wanted $ 850 plus the first and last. “So he decided to live in weekly rate hotels. But by the fall it was down to its last $ 7. He started to sleep in the car.
“Every week you say,” I’m not going to slide another inch, “he told me.” What happens? Next week you’ll be an inch lower. It’s hard to admit that’s how you live, especially when you were in the middle class. One thing I want more than just a place to live is to be able to get my own food. This bread here – even a hard, crunchy piece of bread – is good if your stomach gnaws at you at midnight. “
Another day, I met with Wayne and shadowed him while he was looking for work. Dozens of newspaper advertisements for help sat on the dashboard. He visited over half a dozen places. I was pretending to be in line at fast food restaurants when he spoke to the managers. He got away smart and sharp.
“I’ve applied for eight to ten fast food jobs in the past two weeks,” Wayne said. “You’re not going to hire a 43-year-old for a minimum wage job. I’m bald and gray here. It’s getting daunting. Who is going to hire me?” Beyond retirement, there was another kind of discrimination: he told me he had two jobs lost when employers looked and found that his address was a port of call for the homeless.
“Believe it or not, this 19-year-old bombed-out box with all its scratches and torn interior is a blessing,” he said, referring to his car. “It keeps the rain out, the cold out, the Muggers out. I can’t lose it But I might run out of gas down the street. “He wondered if he had to blow off the gas. “It’s not a ride. I’m just trying to survive.”
Two weeks later, I returned to look for Wayne and crossed the half-dozen spots he’d shown me. I found his Ford Galaxie 500 and knocked on the window. Wayne had sold his blood for the first time last week. When he opened the trunk to get something, I saw a rubber hose. There was gas in his tank. He wouldn’t say how he got it.
I’m telling Wayne’s story from a long time ago for a reason. His desperate attempt to hold on to his car won’t be an iota different from the stories of people left homeless by the 2020s pandemic depression. The stories don’t change, just the dates on the calendar.
B.By the time the pandemic broke out, the country’s combined crises of unaffordable housing and stagnating wages had marginalized many Americans. According to the August report by the team of housing professionals, nearly half of all tenant households in the US were “already charged with rent,” which means that more than 30 percent of monthly rental income is paid. At the beginning of the pandemic, 10.9 million households – a quarter of all tenants – were spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent.
Even before Covid-19, “we had a shortage of 7 million affordable homes available to the lowest-income tenants,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and one of the authors of the white paper. “For ten tenants with the lowest incomes, there were fewer than four apartments that were affordable for them. Covid only exposed the longstanding real estate crisis. “
Last summer, the coalition campaigned for Congress to approve $ 100 billion in emergency aid to avoid “creating a financial cliff that tenants can fall off when the rent back is due,” Yentel said by the time. “And it provides the rental income small landlords need to keep paying their bills and maintaining their property.” This funding is important for small landlords: About half of the 47.5 million rental units in the U.S. are owned by mom and pop businesses, many of which face foreclosure if they can’t pay their mortgages and taxes. Without relief, like 2008 single-family homes, Wall Street investors could go on a shopping spree, making the real estate market even more expensive.
So far, efforts by the coalition and other housing advocates have achieved modest results. While the December incentive didn’t deliver the $ 100 billion residential packaging they advocated, the $ 25 billion it provided is “a very significant down payment to meet those overall needs,” Yentel said.
Going forward, she expects Biden to make rent relief a priority in negotiations with Congress. If it fails, Yentel said, “We are examining the very real possibility of tens of millions of people losing their homes during a wave of Covid-19 this winter.” But even if Biden succeeds, the country will have to tackle a number of longer-term solutions to tackle not only the aftermath of the pandemic, but also the structural causes of mass homelessness.
There are many possible solutions, ranging from large-scale job creation – especially jobs with decent wages – to widespread affordable housing. A bold proposal by the grassroots think tank People’s Policy Project in a pre-pandemic paper co-authored by Peter Gowan and Ryan Cooper calls for the creation of 10 million new affordable housing units in 10 years, funded by a combination of local housing authorities and the federal government.
It’s not that radical to argue that the federal government should fund affordable housing, said Blasi, the UCLA professor emeritus. He noticed billions of dollars were being fired at the American company. “We could ramp up a war production of prefabricated houses,” he said. “It’s just a matter of will and money.”
For a short term, Blasi is working with legal aid attorneys, tenant organizers and software engineers, as well as two founders of the Debt Collective, a group of financial activists formed from the ashes of Occupy Wall Street who have been excited to demolish debts from students by holding debt strikes, Flooding the Ministry of Education with claims against non-profit universities and other measures. Blasi and the team have created a website where tenants can electronically submit responses to eviction notices within five days, which is permitted by law. They also gather volunteers to guide tenants through the process and gather pro bono lawyers to represent them.
Meanwhile, Blasi is stunned that city and state officials have done nothing to prepare for the impending homelessness wave. He co-authored another study for the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy this summer that showed how the government can build refugee camps that are both safe and allow residents to maintain their dignity.
“It looks like they won’t pull themselves together to do that,” said Blasi. “People still deny what’s to come.”
IIf the past is a prologue, then the present is almost certainly the future.
I returned to Sacramento in early summer and saw what was to come in 2021 and beyond by visiting the places I first reported about 40 years ago. While the homeless campsites in 1980 were scattered, hidden, and temporary, and the numbers of unhoused people measured in the low hundreds, there are thousands today, and in some places the camps spread out as far as the eye can see. Sacramento now has three tent cities, the two most important – the island and the snake pit, the largest – on the American River.
“The camps have developed like cities: they have a portion of the camp downtown and small areas on the side that have eight or nine tents, much like subdivisions,” said Joe Smith, the lawyer director for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit that provides services to the homeless, when he took me on a visit. He said the official census was about 5,500 without a residence, but in reality it was closer to 10,000.
Our first stop was in the snake pit. Dozens of tents and tarpaulins stretched into the forest on either side of a dike. Smith gestured behind the wild almond trees, heavy with nuts, at brushes with Russian thistle. “If we just go this route, there will probably be 500 people buried there,” he said. It reminded me of the pictures Dorothea Lange took of homeless camps on the same river in 1936 for the Farm Security Administration. Using their photos as a guide, I realized that almost 84 years later we passed these very places.
As we entered, we met George from Oakland, California, who showed me the 100 watt solar panels that he had installed near the door of his tent to power lights and a television. He also charges phones for his neighbors. We talked for a while while he took out a scrapbook of his family and happier times and then climbed the dyke bank together. There we found Smith talking to another resident, a middle-aged woman who could be brought to life in one of Lange’s photos – she had the same tired face and distant gaze.
I asked her why it’s called the Snake Pit. “There are a couple of snakes here,” replied the woman.
“And they’re not cold-blooded creatures,” George cut in.
“There are some snakes that live on the ground here,” added the woman, “but most of them walk on two legs.”
Smith said he was preparing for a massive influx. “There is a whole new segment of people who are going to move from placement to placement and that’s going to happen suddenly,” he told me. “It gets very traumatic for them. They can react in two ways. They can be scared and stop functioning. Or they can get out of here and be as brutal as they can – their survival instinct. And I know that because I did.” I was that person, “he added, and fell silent. Smith was homeless and slept by the river a few years ago.
T.The next day Smith took me to the island. This camp is attracting an elderly crowd that had already isolated from Covid-19 to keep residents safe, he said. I followed him down a well-traveled path that was flanked by elderberries, tangles of wild grapes, and copious amounts of poison oak. The Sacramento River glittered in the midday sun. There was a cemetery for the island’s dogs. Kreuze markierten die Ruheplätze für Yogi, Freundin und Ingwer. Auf zwei der Kreuze stand „Dog Bless“. Das Lager war ein starker Kontrast zur Schlangengrube: Es war sauber, der Boden war geharkt und die Zelte und Planen waren weit voneinander entfernt.
Die inoffizielle Leiterin der Insel ist Twana James, 50. Ihr Planenhaus war aufgeräumt. Fast alles darin – von einem winzigen Jesus bis zu einem gewundenen lila Glasherz, einem Fernseher, einer Stereoanlage und einem Ventilator – stammte von Müllcontainern. James ist eine optimistische Frau, die sich nicht gerne als Anführerin bezeichnet, aber standardmäßig ist sie das. Ihr Akzent ist typisch für Weiße der Arbeiterklasse im Central Valley – ihre Worte fallen ab und sie spricht schnell, murmelnd, vielleicht ein sprachliches Erbe der Dust Bowl-Migration.
“Wir haben Filmabende”, sagte James. “Diesen Samstag werden wir haben Passion Christi. Ich habe mittwochs und samstags von 8 bis 9 Uhr Bibelstudium. “ Sie kocht auch. Das heutige Menü: Schweine in einer Decke, die sie für etwa 35 der 70 Einwohner vorbereiten wird. Die Brötchen Keksteig zu ihren Füßen würden verwendet, um Hot Dogs einzuwickeln, die dann gebacken werden. Obwohl Mitglieder der Insel sich um die Ausgaben kümmern und James auf einer GoFundMe-Seite um Spenden bittet, gibt sie häufig ihre Lebensmittelmarkenzuteilung sowie ihr zusätzliches Sicherheitseinkommen aus, um für alle zu kochen.
“Am Ende gebe ich es aus, um den Jungs und den Ältesten zu helfen, weil ich sie liebe – das tue ich.” Sie kam zu Tränen, als sie über Renegade sprach. “Er steht da oben. Er kann nicht hineingehen. Manchmal schafft er es nicht ins Badezimmer. Er macht ein Chaos, weißt du? ” Ein anderer Mann war blind. “Wir kümmern uns um unsere eigenen”, sagte sie.
Ich dachte an diese Gemeinschaft als eine Genossenschaft (oder, wie Smith es nennt, “ein Kollektiv”) und blitzte in Tom Collins ‘Lager für die Verwaltung des Arbeitsfortschritts in Weedpatch, Kalifornien, auf, das von John Steinbeck in dünn verschleiert wurde Früchte des Zorns. Dieses Lager praktizierte wie die Insel Selbstverwaltung. Spötter werden vertrieben; Die Bewohner der Insel wollen den Bullen keine Entschuldigung geben. Wie ihre Kollegen im Weedpatch Camp haben sie Ordnung in Leben geschaffen, die sonst keine hatten.
Ich fragte mich, ob ich nicht für viele Amerikaner in die Zukunft blicken würde, die in ein oder zwei Jahren aufgrund der Pandemie ihre Wohnungen oder Häuser verlieren werden. Wird die Bundesregierung da sein, um zu helfen? Angesichts der letzten vier Jahrzehnte des politischen Lebens in den USA hat man wenig Vertrauen. Vielleicht werden die Vertriebenen alleine sein. Vielleicht ist das Beste, auf das sie hoffen können, Kollektive zu gründen, die in Flusswäldern versteckt sind. Wenn dies geschieht, wenn die Demokraten sich nicht gegen den republikanischen Obstruktionismus durchsetzen und die politische Stimme finden können, um sich um Amerikaner der Arbeiterklasse zu kümmern, bleibt nur die Frage, wie diese modernen Hoovervilles heißen werden: Trumptowns oder Bidenvilles?