Just a paycheck away from homelessness
By Stephanie Taylor
Society has conceptualized homelessness as a problem but through a different perspective lens, homelessness is our solution to bringing back chivalry and cultivating relationships with our most vulnerable community members. The social inequities that are occurring within our most marginalized communities are the racial disparities in wealth which perpetuates the cycles of poverty and homelessness.
In their Oct. 22, 2021, Wall Street Journal story “It Would Take 228 Years for Black Families to Amass Wealth of White Families, Analysis Says,” Aditya Aladangady and Akila Forde write: “In the United States, the average Black and Hispanic or Latino households earn about half as much as the average White household and own only about 15 to 20 percent as much net wealth.”
The wealth divide has narrowed in the past few years leading up to the Great Recession. In the wake of COVID-19, widespread foreclosures and job losses have hit the African American and Latino communities hardest. As the realities begin to soak in, society is finally realizing that this is not a “them” problem but an “us” problem and that it should not take ordinary working-class people becoming homeless before we are able to change the narrative. As Australian author Terry Harris notes, “Change the narrative. It will change your mindset.”
How is homelessness even defined in the eyes of our government? In accordance with Washington State R.C.W. 43.185C.010 (12), a homeless person means “an individual living outside or in a building not meant for human habitation or which they have no legal right to occupy, in an emergency shelter, or in a temporary housing program which may include a transitional and supportive housing program if habitation time limits exist.” Interesting – so individuals who live in transitional and shelter housing are considered homeless?
Our first journey to the road of homelessness began for my family and me in 2008 during the Great Recession. We had only used 22 months of welfare ever since our children were born who were 3 years old and 1 year old at that time. Together, our income was about $63,000 per year, which was over the DSHS limit of $2,209 monthly net household income for us to qualify for Snap benefits, which often left us living from paycheck to paycheck. I remember our landlord offering to sell us his condo, which we had been renting for $850 per month and included 1,050 square feet of room for my family and me. Not having access to an elevator and carrying $400 worth of groceries all the way up to the third floor made purchasing the condo less appealing. Of course, coming from a background of poverty, what did I even know about purchasing investments?
Before we knew it, property taxes had increased, insurance increased and our water bill all increased within a few months’ time, forcing our landlord to sell the condo and giving us only 60 days to move. How could this be? How could we have lived there for two years and were forced to move within such a short period time? What were we going to do and where were we going to find affordable housing?
From 2012 until 2019, my family and I lived in a house that was deemed by the City of Olympia in 2014 to be uninhabitable. As society has become so fixed on finding answers for affordable housing, we have disregarded the facts that the quality of living for those who are already housed are not even being regulated, which contributes to homelessness subconsciously. My family and I became homeless but still had a roof over our heads. Who knew that there are laws put into place to protect marginalized tenants from enduring such unsanitized mishaps? In order to qualify for rapid re-housing, one has a have a job that is sufficient enough for one to carry their rent after they have received financial assistance to move in, but I was just a mere college student living off of my financial aid. How were we going to survive? I remember sleeping on friends’ and family members’ couches, moving from pillar to post not having stability.
The notions that homeless people aren’t trying hard enough to obtain a job or find affordable housing are misconstrued theories based on society’s already preconceived thoughts surrounding our disadvantaged community members. Anchoring bias is a cognitive bias where a specific piece of information is relied upon to help one make their decision, so we as a society tend to judge a book by its cover more than we may realize.
According to a June 21, 2019, Patch.com personal finance blog article, “Here the Actual Wage Needed to Rent in Tacoma, Pierce County,” by Travis Loose, “In the Tacoma metro area, a person would need to make $24.33 per hour in wages to afford a two-bedroom rental at fair market rent.” Rent continues to increase as our community members from seniors to marginalized and middle-class workers try normalizing their lives from the aftermath of COVID-19.
As members of our communities, we need to move beyond what is being projected in the media surrounding homelessness and understand that we all are trying our hardest to survive. Most of us are suffering in silence as we have never experienced these kinds of disparities on such a heightened level, but just know we are all just a paycheck away from uncertainty.
Stephanie Taylor spent from 2012 until 2020 being homeless with her three children. Today she is CEO of Port of Support & Pathways to Success, having earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Management and Human Services and a Master of Public Administration and Non-Profit Management at The Evergreen State College. Contact her at [email protected] and visit portofsupport.org.
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