As Evictions Rise Nationwide, These People Are Doing Something About It
- The government does not keep track of the number of evictions.
- According to advocates, evictions were on the rise, even before COVID-19 hit.
- RESULTS is an organization that helps people get involved in making changes in the fight against poverty and homelessness.
Everyone can do something to help, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
There is no denying that it can be tough to be a landlord with tenants who can't or won't pay rent. While we acknowledge the stress and particular challenges associated with being a landlord, we want to take a closer look at the number of Americans facing life on the street and the everyday people working to make homelessness in the U.S. a thing of the past.
The U.S. government does not keep track of the number of evictions in any given year, and most state governments keep no records either. Eviction records are kept in county court systems and can be challenging to access. It is left to activists to dig through county records to figure out how many people have been evicted. Figuring out how many of those who are evicted end up living on the streets is nearly impossible.
State of evictions and homelessness
The majority of low-income families in the U.S. spend over half of their income to keep a roof over their heads. Once eviction hits, it can be nearly impossible for some to come up with enough money in the bank to rent another home.
The Eviction Lab at Princeton University does what it can to track how many people have been displaced through eviction. The Lab currently tracks evictions from 31 cities across the country. It found that there have been over 790,000 evictions in those cities since mid-March 2020, including 8,300 evictions in the last week alone.
We don't have a national database that informs us of how many people are homeless in this country. What we have are various groups that gather homeless data. For example, the National Alliance to End Homelessness puts together a State of Homelessness report. The last time a report came out was in January of 2020, just a few weeks before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. It does not reflect the number of people who have been evicted since the eviction mandates ended last summer.
According to the 2020 report, more than 580,000 were homeless in America. 30% of those homeless were families with children. Another 6% were unaccompanied youth under the age of 25.
The power of everyday people
Sam Daley-Harris is the founder of RESULTS, an organization with more than 100 chapters in the U.S. and an additional 40 chapters in eight other countries. RESULTS is a movement of everyday people working together to influence political decisions to end issues like poverty and homelessness. If it sounds pie in the sky, that may be because we are so conditioned to believe one person cannot effect change.
In his book, Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government, Daley-Harris writes, "We are haunted by this secretly held, and for many, unconscious belief: while we know we can love and nurture those close to us and can make a difference in our communities, most of us mistakenly believe that we don't make a difference in the larger world."
Through RESULTS, ordinary people are finding their voice. For example, Anita Lee is a publicist from Sherman Oak, California. She's also a RESULTS volunteer. It was in 2011 that Lee lost her home and came face-to-face with the lack of affordable housing. Though she landed on her feet, Lee says the sense of desperation she once felt led her to grassroots advocacy with RESULTS. She found that doing something -- anything -- to help others provided her with hope. Rather than deplete her emotionally, actively working toward change charges Lee's batteries and allows her to see what's possible.
Lee points to real-life people impacted by eviction. She tells the story of Debbie (not her real name) who worked her entire life, including as a business owner. She was divorced and for 45 years took care of a son with special needs. Much of her earnings went to looking after her child. But then her son died, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer, and her money was gone. Today, Debbie is 75 and has been on a waiting list for Section 8 or senior housing for six years. She has spent that time couch surfing, staying with one friend after another. It's stories like this that fuel Lee's passion to see changes made.
Preparation makes a difference
Asked how working with RESULTS differs from other grassroots work she's done, Lee answered, "It's the first place I've worked with that trains and supports you as you go in to speak with elected representatives."
Lee shares a story of running into her congressman in a parking lot. She approached him about an upcoming bill regarding the earned income tax credit. Because of her training through RESULTS, Lee knew to name the specific bill and clearly state her position. Lee says that the congressman's entire demeanor changed when he realized how prepared she was. He ended up agreeing with her position and supporting the bill.
Your voice matters
Given all that's going on in the world, a single interaction may feel like a drop in the bucket, but enough drops eventually fill that bucket. And that's the point of grassroots advocacy.
For anyone interested in helping those who've been touched by food insecurity, evictions, or homelessness, Lee offers the following advice:
- Write to your representatives
- Get your pitch ready so you know what you're advocating for
- Help with your city's homeless count
- Donate to a food bank
According to Lee, the point is to do something. If you're feeling discouraged, worried that the world is a mess, add your voice to the thousands of other voices calling for change. It's enough to make you feel hopeful.
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