Homelessness crisis rises across the US Midwest

Homelessness crisis rises across the US Midwest

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) on March 18. Also called the Point-in-Time (PIT) report, the AHAR graphs changes in the numbers of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people from year to year. The PIT report concluded that nationally, homelessness had increased even before the economic impact of the pandemic. 580,466 people were homeless on a single night in January 2020—an increase of 2.2 percent from 2019. Homelessness has increased for the previous four years.

The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have already resulted in a sharp increase in homelessness in the Midwest. A larger crisis looms when the federal eviction moratorium, extended again on March 29 through June 30, is allowed to expire. The federal eviction moratorium has never included rent forgiveness for tenants, meaning that thousands of dollars of debt are accumulating that cannot be repaid.

[Credit: Envato]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that homeless encampments not be razed to help contain coronavirus spread. Nonetheless, homeless encampments have been subject to being cleared out by municipalities, spreading the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals are forced to seek out new shelter.

These efforts to clear out homeless encampments also involve police violence. A March 18 clearing out of a homeless encampment in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was denounced by the public for recorded brutality on the part of the Minneapolis Police Department. A video of the incident shows an officer kneeling on a protester’s neck or back. The city is currently the site of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes in May 2020 and sparked protests by tens of millions of people across the globe. Minnesota is estimated to have 20,000 homeless people on any given night.

The Minnesota legislature has begun to discuss ways to lift the state’s eviction moratorium. Approximately 100,000 Minnesota households are behind on rent, owing a combined total of $200 million. Even if the legislature does not remove the restriction on evictions tenants are at risk. The state is one of seven that does not require landlords to give written notice before filing an eviction lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed, tenants can be kicked out for failure to pay rent in only nine days. More than 600 people have lost their housing to eviction lawsuits during the state moratorium.

ABC News affiliate KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa revealed that Linn County officials emailed the office of Governor Kim Reynolds pleading for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be distributed to vulnerable populations, including the homeless. The state had granted 3,200 doses to Hy-Vee supermarkets to vaccinate Collins Aerospace employees, but gave nothing to the underserved.

In the email Tricia Kitzmann, community health division manager for Linn County Public Health, complained, “It is becoming increasingly clear that the Governor’s Office does not trust local public health to identify and serve individuals in our community who are the most vulnerable,” including the homeless, those with mental health issues, and those from minority and immigrant communities.

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