The Long Wait

On June 1, 2017, a vivid reminder of the housing crisis in America.

The following article is featured in the Summer 2017 edition of News From HOME, our quarterly print newsletter.  You can read the whole newsletter online here.  If you want to subscribe, click here.

Watch a few of the applicants tell their stories here.

Wes Mitchell arrived at Fairmount Avenue at 6:00 am, ready to help.  But he was not ready for what he saw.  “I was stunned.  The line was already around the block.”

He knew it would be a big crowd, but he hadn’t quite imagined this.  Wes, a resident at Project HOME’s Francis House of Peace, was going to work with those in line who were applying for our new residence.  This day, June 1, was the opening day for people to submit applications.

As we announced in the last edition of News from HOME, we are opening our newest residence at 2415 N. Broad Street later this summer.  The residence will provide 88 units of permanent, affordable supportive housing for persons who have experienced homelessness as well as low-income individuals.  Twenty of these units will be for young adults ages 18-23, aged out of foster care, homeless, or at risk of homelessness.  We knew, from previous experience, that applications would far exceed the number of available units.

Some people had started camping out on Fairmount Avenue two evenings before the day that applications would be received. Many took time off jobs or miss appointments to be there. By the time doors opened to receive applicants, the line was several blocks long, with hundreds of persons hoping for the chance for the long-desired decent roof over their heads.  It was a snapshot of a part of America that we rarely want to acknowledge – elderly, young, women with children, persons with disabilities – victims of an economic system in which many people are disposable.

Several staff persons and residents were helping to keep the line orderly and assist people in making sure they had all the right materials.  Our Advocacy Committee talked to people in the line, heard their stories (and, in many cases, frustration, and pain), and invited them to sign letters to Congress calling for more affordable housing.

Each person in the line had a story, but those stories carried some common threads:  Women leaving situations of domestic abuse.  Many people with disabilities, some who had faced discrimination and even abuse in current housing situations.  And people who had already been on waiting lists for other housing for many years. 

Most of the applicants were simply trapped in the harsh squeeze of fixed or low incomes in the face of rising rents.  Several people remarked on all the housing going up – but, as one women put it, “It’s not for us!”  In fact, the higher-income housing development is inflating rents for many already struggling with poverty.  “Nobody can afford the rising rents,” said a man named George. “No one’s income is going up.  I work two jobs and have kids, and we can’t afford it.”

Many folks were in recovery and desperately needed a sure place of their own to continue to turn their lives around.  “I have eight months clean,” said Jamie, “and I’m looking for a job and don’t have a stable place.  Without housing, it’s hard to do anything else.  But I’m not trying to be part of the problem anymore – I’m trying to be part of the solution.”

A woman named Sophia had lived in her own home for 20 years, but due to a serious illness she had to move in with her elderly mother and leave her job.  “God gave me a second chance, and it’s time to take my life back.”  Dominique spoke quite bluntly of his need for affordable housing:  “I’m sick and blind and have no family. It would help me.  There are a lot of folks like me.”

Even many of those in line were moved by the magnitude of the crowd and of the need.  “You see all this vacant housing, but also all these homeless people,” said Carol.  “It’s very sad – people who don’t have enough money to pay rent and also pay for food.”

To add to the pain of the day, the Trump budget had recently been unveiled, with a proposal to slash $6 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (The new residence includes critically needed HUD subsidies.)  Just two days earlier, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said that poverty was largely “a state of mind.” 

As the lines get longer, the resources get slimmer, federal public policy gets stingier, and attitudes of public officials get colder.

As he talked with the applicants, Wes Mitchell remembered a similar day two years when he was up at 4:00 in the morning to be ready to apply for Project HOME’s Francis House of Peace. “It gave me a jolt of gratitude that I was able to get in.  But the need seems to have exploded since then.”  It breaks his heart, he says, to know that hundreds of the people in line won’t have the same luck.

More than a thousand persons applied for affordable housing at 2415 N. Broad Street.  We will welcome 88 new persons into our community.  More than 900 others will have to fill out other applications, wait in more lines, stir up slim hopes again.  We at Project HOME are doing the best we can, with more housing projects planned over the next few years.  But as a nation we can and must do better.

 

Take action NOW: Send an email to your Senators, Representatives, and the President that housing, health care, employment and education matter to ALL Americans. You can include examples from your community in your message to your elected officials.  Go to www.projecthome.org/action.