You get sick, you lose your job, you no longer pay for the house: the homeless drama overwhelms the US

He takes a dance step every time a car whizzes by with the radio volume a little higher. It’s fun to watch it. With her a friend, on the corner of 10th Avenue and 41st Street, in the heart of Manhattan. At the feet the girls have big bags full of clothes and a suitcase. They seem carefree, they laugh, regardless of the first colds that begin to lash New York. On the same sidewalk is the entrance to Covenant House, the structure that has been home to the city’s homeless youth for sixty years. Shirley, an 18-year-old African American from Brooklyn, has a contagious smile that manages to stand out despite her mask. “I ended up on the street because of drugs,” she tells us. “My family sent me away for the problems I created. It is my fault, but certainly my parents did not give me the happy childhood that every child should experience ».

Elias, on the other hand, lives in the Bronx, is 34 years old, has a wife, four children and for months a burden on his heart: that of being thrown out of his apartment, after losing his job stability. Mexican, he has been in the United States for 28 years and is employed in the construction industry. Due to the pandemic, he was forced to stay at home, without salary and government aid, as it was illegal. In the last few months he has started doing a few days again, but without ever returning to the regularity of before, and now: «I have only two options: either I use the little money I have to pay part of the rent or I let my family eat. The manager who runs the building told me that they don’t care, he wants us to leave. “

In a nation plagued by Covid-19, Shirley and Elias are the two faces of a social drama that threatens to bend America, irreparably undermining its social structure at its foundations: on the one hand, the record increase in homeless people in school age, from Another is the housing crisis caused by high rents and the imminent end of the federal moratorium that prevents landlords from evicting tenants unable to pay during the lockdown.

The storm that could hit the United States in the coming weeks is of catastrophic proportions. About 40 million people are at real risk of eviction. A problem that was already strong before the pandemic, but the virus and the 22 million jobs gone up in smoke, of which only half recovered, are taking the final blow.

The consequence, experts denounce, will be the sedimentation of a new and large class of poor people for whom finding a job will be increasingly difficult and consequently it will also be the re-letting of housing, buying a car, sending children to school. To pay the highest bill, the new generations, so it will become difficult to have a regular school career. The homeless condition for many could become chronic, raising the already record numbers.

Numbers that, however, have a face and a history. Like that of Shirley and her friend. «I am enrolled in the fourth high school. It is not easy to study online now with the pandemic, there is not much tranquility, in the shelter the spaces are shared ”, he explains, after overcoming the mistrust a little. “It’s hard to do everything alone and be a teenager who needs parents to take care of her. Here at Covenant, however, they help us a lot, I have amenities like hot water, a bed, a meal. I’m trying to recover, to become independent. I also found some good friends and together we feel less alone ». He would like to be an engineer, but also to cultivate a passion for music and fashion. “Every day I’m afraid for my future,” he says, and “I often cry, but I try to look little at the past. I know I have to be as strong as adults if I want to improve my life ».

The crisis that the nation is experiencing today is well reflected in the city that has been most affected by Covid-19, New York. Homeless students here for the fifth consecutive year exceed 111 thousand. The numbers of the Advocates for Children organization make one shudder: in public schools one in ten students has, or has had, housing stability problems. In the Bronx, the most problematic neighborhood, the situation plummets to one in six. 85% of troubled children are black or Latino. There are 32,700 who live in a shelter, while 73,000 can count on temporary accommodation such as cohabitation at the home of relatives and friends, makeshift places and the so-called “couchsurfing”, or jumping from one sofa to another.

Elias is also afraid. The federal moratorium approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal health agency for disease control and prevention, will expire on December 31st. The moratoriums set by the individual states will also end. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom extended it until February 1, in the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo indicated January 2021. “If I were alone I would be less worried,” Elias tells us, “but I have four children. The work remains precarious ». And a new lockout could come soon.

“The federal one is still a limited moratorium, because it does not automatically apply to all tenants, certain criteria must be respected to benefit from it”, explains Marika Dias, lawyer of Urban Justice Center, a network of legal “clinics” also engaged in the battles against mass evictions. “For example, you have to demonstrate that you have faced extraordinary financial hardship due to Covid and still commit to pay a small fee”.

Associations like Dias’s are on a war footing, calling for Congress to intervene. “We need a political solution. Nationally, Ilhan Omar, the Democratic Congressman from Minnesota, presented the The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, a law that would cancel tenants’ rent until the end of the pandemic, offering assistance even to small owners who may find themselves in difficulty. financial. But everything is stalled ».

“Cancel rent” is the cry of activists in the city who are promoting the rent strike. A way also to put the big corporations on the ropes, Malika Conner, coordinator of the Right to Counsel Coalition, tells us. His family has also struggled with housing instability in the past. “We didn’t have a safe home,” he says, “today things have settled down, but my experience has led me to want to do this job, to help the community understand that by uniting it is possible to change things”.

And Elias also turned to Right to Counsel Coalition. «Getting in touch with this association was very important. Often those who are clandestine like me think they have no rights. But that’s not the case, ”he tells us in Spanish. His story is a typical case. In fact, Latins, together with African Americans, are the most affected by the ax of evictions; they are more than twice as likely to be hunted as whites.

A tragedy that is no longer just economic and social, but also health care: «When people are evicted, they go to live with relatives or friends or enter the collective shelter system. This exponentially increases the chances of Covid transmission, ”explains Pierre Gooding, a lawyer and community leader in Harlem, the historic black neighborhood, one of the most affected by the virus.

Today, New York City has reached the highest number of homeless people ever recorded since the Great Depression. According to the organization Coalition for the homeless, 50% more than 10 years ago. A quick walk around the city is all it takes for the math to materialize before your eyes: on the sidewalks of the East Village, south of Manhattan, for example, and especially in Time Square and all of Midtown.

An endemic problem. Entrepreneur Mayor Michael Bloomberg had tried; the hot potato then ended up in the hands of the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who made it one of the fundamental points of his program, focusing on a plan of contributions and infrastructures, which also accompanied the path of young people without stable accommodation.

The closure of schools, however, following the city lockdown, in addition to eliminating the only element of normality, has further hindered the learning process. In fact, the virtual lessons were not immediately accessible to everyone: many still lack tablets and an adequate wi-fi network.

In general, homeless children rarely perform well in school. In the 2019/2020 school year, only 29% of homeless elementary and middle school students reached acceptable levels in reading and the older ones are also 87% more likely to drop out of school before the end of the cycle. A dog chasing its own tail. Without a diploma, in fact, the possibility of not having a good job will increase tenfold, thus risking to remain trapped in the wheels of poverty.

“Covid has exacerbated an already very serious condition,” says Eric Weingartner, head of The Door, one of the most important organizations for students in difficulty in New York which also has the dedicated Broome Street Academy high school with over 300 members. “This is a very expensive city, with huge pockets of poverty. One in four New Yorkers live below the poverty line. People experience misery quite easily. It is enough to lose your job for a month, too high an emergency expense ». His institution provides essential services for about eleven thousand young people (aged 12 to 26). From health, legal, psychological assistance, up to pre-university training, to coaching in the search for employment and accommodation.

Among the guys who benefited from the structure is Rasa. He is 19, he was homeless at 15. A problematic family, where she was abused, then the front door slammed in her face. “I have had problems with my mom, I have faced juvenile courts. Friends took turns hosting me, I did couchsurfing. At that time I wasn’t going to school, I couldn’t study. And it’s hard even today that I’m in college, where I’m majoring in psychology, ”Rasa says. He is still affected by that period: «It is loneliness that hurts the most when you are a minor and homeless. Not having a place to return to, to call home, creates a strong emotional imbalance. I have often thought of suicide ».

If it hadn’t been for The Door and his friends, he doesn’t know what would have happened, and hopes: «Today I’m no longer homeless, but my dream is to have my own place. And I want to help the kids who are facing the problems that I have had ». That’s why he chose to do an internship at The Door. «I tell the students to always remember one fundamental thing: it is not their fault that they experience this difficulty. They have to keep in mind that they are important, they have value as people. But above all they can do it “says Rasa, who advises:” They have to study, work hard, fight to achieve their goals. They deserve to live and feel safe, like all their peers ”.

Source: Rss l'Espresso by

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