By Benjamin Depta
Over the past six months or so, it has become abundantly clear that the ongoing pandemic has affected and will continue to affect public health in more ways than one. The surface-level impact that the virus has caused is an easy one to see, in that the physical health of many individuals will be affected. However, there is a disturbing, growing trend in another sphere of public health that is too often ignored: the displacement of countless individuals from their places of living.
I was scrolling through social media and was greeted by a heartbreaking clip from a recent news broadcast (https://twitter.com/monaeltahawy/status/1301501055059062784?s=20) depicting Houston authorities evicting tenants from their houses. One family, without anywhere to store their belongings, walk off only with a small amount of food, children’s clothes, and toiletries, leaving the rest of their possessions on the side of the road. “It’s trash — they can just throw it in the trash. We don’t have a car, we don’t have help” the renter tells a CNN reporter. Later in the feature, another man, Francisco, the landlord’s mover, provides an interview while choking back tears: “I have a sister. I have, you know, my mom. And we never know. Maybe today it’s her, tomorrow it’s me.”
While stories like this may get buried under the near-constant stream of breaking news Americans have seen over the past few years, they occur constantly. A July article from CNBC predicted that up to 28 million Americans are on the verge of losing their homes. Less than a month later, a Marketwatch article estimated that number to be closer to 40 million. President Trump recently put a moratorium on evictions that is active through the end of the year, but without proper rent control or rent relief this is simply pushing back the inevitable.
The looming eviction crisis is a public health emergency, especially as summer leads into fall and then winter. Worsening weather conditions will inevitably force the houseless into shelters, shelters that are hardly able to properly sustain the current houseless population. One of the main reasons that Covid-19 has not devastated the houseless as expected is because “adequate” shelters in the form of tents have been constructed with ample space between each one. However, this is simply an impossibility as the weather gets colder. Furthermore, rural and suburban areas are not as well-equipped with professionals to maintain and manage these shelters when compared to urban areas.
The possibility of a second wave of the pandemic has the potential to be a death sentence for the disenfranchised and vulnerable. If rent relief, at the very least, does not become widely-supported policy, there is a potential for this crisis to become an unmitigated disaster.