The Face Of Homelessness
2020 has been a difficult year for just about everyone. Whether it be a lot of a job, losing your home, or being infected with COVID 19, we have all struggled in some way. Our lives have changed in such drastic ways that there is only a small resemblance of what they were this time last year. Before the pandemic, we lived our lives in a bit of blissful oblivion. At least my husband and I did, that is until our world was turned upside down with our eyes opened wide.
My husband and I were taking our time buying a house. We wanted to get more bang for our buck, so we decided to wait until prices came down. Little did we know that the pandemic would change everything.
As with many others, my husband’s hours at work were cut and his paychecks were half of what they once were. And made just $20 too much a week to qualify for unemployment benefits. It was a struggle, to say the least. We decided it was time to buy a house. Unfortunately, getting a mortgage became extremely difficult. The qualification requirements became very strict which made it near impossible to buy a house, especially one we could afford at the time. As a result, we decided to rent an apartment. Little did we know, this was going to be just as difficult.
Our current living situation was less than ideal, so we gave our 40-day notice. All was moving along and were not due to move into our apartment until a couple of days after our time to move. We moved into a motel which we thought would be a couple of days. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. The apartment we were supposed to be moving into got delayed. After going back and forth with the owner for nearly a month he advised us that his investors were not renting to any new tenants due to the executive order.
Early in the pandemic, California’s Govern Gavin Newsom signed an executive order which prohibited evictions due to COVID 19 related back rent. Because of this, renting anything was beyond difficult. We found ourselves homeless. What a terrifying feeling that was. It was a budget-friendly hotel, so as you can imagine, there were times we found ourselves face to face with drug dealers and those who had died from overdoses in the hotel. It was scary at times, but what I realized fairly quickly was that there were many people just like us in the hotel. People who had lost their homes due to the pandemic and various other reasons.
I met some wonderful people who made my time there better. I didn’t feel so alone, and the shame and embarrassment I felt for being homeless were subsided by a little community of people I had developed. It also opened my eyes to what being homeless looked like. It wasn’t just addicts and mentally ill people. It wasn’t just the unemployed. There were more people like us living in the motel than I would ever have imagined.
While I was aware of the homeless problem, I was oblivious to how severe it was in my community. In the United States, there are more than a half-million people who are homeless. In my home state of California, nearly half the country’s homeless population is here in California. This wasn’t supposed to be the case during the pandemic. California Governor Gavin Newsom put into place, Project Room Key which was supposed to house the homeless in hotels. The goal was to lower the spread of the virus, but frankly, it fell short.
During the time we were homeless, not one person I met was able to access this program, including my husband and me even though we were considered high risk. To this day, we have still not heard if we qualified for the program. I guess we are still on the waiting list.
California has always been an expensive place to live in. There isn’t a ton of affordable housing. One would expect high housing costs in Southern California or Silicon Valley, but to be honest, there is no part of California that I would consider affordable. Even the small foothill community in Northern California where I am from has outrageous rent prices. Here, you are lucky to buy a house for under $300,000. In major cities, you are looking at over half a million for a modest home.
I tell my husband all the time that if our kids and grandkids weren’t living in California I would love to leave California. While every state has its issues with affordable housing, California’s issues are out of control. I would love to be able to buy a home without having to sell my soul to do so. It astonishes me each day that so many other states can manage to have home prices at an achievable level, but California can’t.
While the pandemic opened my eyes to the homeless and affordable housing problem, it has been going on way too long. Not just here in California, but all over the nation. We are one of the richest countries in the world, we should be able to do a better job of taking care of one another.