Millions of Americans could be facing homelessness when the federal eviction moratorium expires on Dec. 31 as negotiations over a relief bill stall in Congress.
Job losses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a pre-existing housing crisis which disproportionately impacted Black and Latino households.
More than 14 million American households are currently at risk of eviction and have amassed an estimated $25 billion in rental debt, according to a report by Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium expires, 4.9 million of them are likely to receive eviction notices in January, Stout found.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers have introduced a $908 billion stimulus proposal which includes plans to alleviate some of the housing-related stress by providing $25 billion in rental assistance. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially rejected the bipartisan proposal and ongoing negotiations may stretch past Christmas.
“If the federal government and the CDC allow the mortarium to lapse in the new year I think we are in for the most terrifying segment of the pandemic experience and that we will see any effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 fail,” Emily Benfer, a Wake Forest professor and co-creator of the Eviction Lab COVID-19 Housing Policy Scoreboard, a dataset of evictions, said. “Setting us up for decades if not generations of recovery due to the devastating outcome of such widespread eviction.”
How we got here
In the spring, 43 states and Washington D.C. issued a patchwork of laws that differ in who they protect and how they freeze eviction, according to Benfer. She said many of those protections lifted over the summer and just 14 state eviction moratoriums remain in place.
When the evictions lifted over the summer, COVID-19 cases increased and “as many as 10,700 excess deaths occurred,” Benfer’s team found. She pointed out that Black and Latino people are the most likely to be evicted and also the most likely to be hospitalized and die of COVID-19.
In September, the CDC issued the federal moratorium, but Benfer said it lacked consistent implementation, technical advice from the federal government and education of tenants.
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Eviction filings have since been piling up and if the protections lapse property owners could file millions more eviction cases, Benfer said, adding that when CARES Act protection lapsed for two weeks earlier this year, evictions spiked as high as 395% above historic levels.
“The only thing in the way of widespread homelessness displacement and significant health harms are these protections, so the moment they lift if history is any indication we will see significant spikes in eviction filing,” she said. “Many families will leave before the eviction goes forward.”
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The clearinghouse lawhelp.org offers a state-by-state search engine for legal help and do it yourself legal forms. Benfer’s team at the Eviction Lab has also created a list of housing groups including nonprofits that families can turn too for resources.
“Know your rights and get the assistance that’s available,” she said.
Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness recommended that families facing eviction after the holidays contact a local legal aid program or call 211 to see what options are available to them.
“The resources available might vary a lot and the way you access the resources varies,” he said. “Money is out there. Again it varies community by community, but there is money from the CARES Act that was put out there that some communities haven’t spent yet.”
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Many charitable organizations are struggling as donations decrease and demand for their services increased amid pandemic-fueled unemployment. But December is one of the biggest months for donations and industry experts are hoping Americans will find creative ways to give back this holiday season.
Berg recommended those looking to help contact their local United Way or mayor’s office to find direct service organizations that are helping the homeless this holiday season.
“Give them money,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Lt. Jared Martin, a commanding officer of Salvation Army in Winchester, Virginia agreed that financial donations are best because they contribute to heating bills and staff payroll. Martin helps run a 40-bed shelter for families and individuals.
Martin also suggested making bulk donations of fresh, frozen or canned food to soup kitchens and individual portions to food pantries.
Soup kitchens primarily cook large portions so he suggested donating items like chicken broth, milk and bread. Around the holidays, Martin said his food pantry is looking for traditional Christmas meal components like frozen turkeys and stuffing.
“Our homeless shelter and our soup kitchen operates almost entirely by gifts of in kind donations of food,” Martin said, adding that his team was able to feed 1,000 people with $14,000 worth of donated food last month.
Kenneth Hodder, national commissioner with the Salvation Army, added that donations of warm clothes like socks, hats and gloves are also welcome. Shelters may also be looking for bedding and hygiene kits that include soap, sanitizer, face masks, tampons and pads.
If you’re unable to donate financially, Hodder, Martin and Berg suggested volunteering. Many nonprofits have developed socially distant and virtual volunteering options, but two-thirds of all volunteers have decreased or stopped volunteering because of the pandemic according to a study released last month by Fidelity Charitable, a nonprofit organization created by Fidelity Investments.
Martin said Salvation Army volunteers are able to cook and serve meals at the soup kitchen. Some Salvation Army units are holding drive through and to-go feedings during the holiday season.
Volunteers can also collect donations outside stores like Walmart through the red kettle campaign. Typically, Martin said the campaign would draw about 300 volunteers in November and December, but the number of volunteers has “dramatically reduced” this year due to the pandemic.
Volunteers are given masks, sanitizing wipes and their own aprons to protect them from the coronavirus. There are also digital modes of donating through the Salvation Army website and on Google and Apple Pay. There’s even an option to “Ask Alexa” to donate to the organization.
“People that are healthy and able to be in public are very valuable as volunteers this year,” he said. “All of us who have a warm safe home to enjoy should remember those who do not.”
Hodder added that local units of the Salvation Army are looking for professionals in every field to join their advisory board to help those in need navigate the legal and medical systems and find stable housing. He said volunteers can also contribute virtually by answering calls for the Salvation Army’s Hope Line, which people can call for emotional support.
“Since the pandemic began we have seen a tsunami of human need and in many instances that need is accompanied by a sense of loneliness, a sense of fear,” he said. “It’s the Salvation Army’s intention to do everything possible for individuals and families that would otherwise face a very dark winter to have some light at a critical time.”
Contributing: Amanda Hernández and Josh Bote, USA TODAY
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
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