Tom Durkin: Give us shelter, please
Let’s face it: The homeless problem is not being caused by “not enough affordable housing.”
It’s being caused by no affordable housing.
A waiting list is not affordable housing. I qualified for a subsidized apartment on Old Tunnel Road Sept 15, 2015. They told me it would be two-and-a-half to three years before I’d get an apartment.
That was two years and nine months ago. And after months of being stonewalled, they finally told me I’m still a distant No. 19 on the waiting list. I could die before my number comes up.
Meanwhile, I’m homeless. By mutual, prearranged agreement, I am moving out of where I lived for the last two years and into … storage.
Affordable places are rare, and rarely advertised. My best chance of finding a place is through people I know who know people who might have – or know of – a place for rent or a house to share. Or at least a place to stay for a while.
It’s working. Friends have offered me their pop-up trailer for the next few weeks. I’m getting all kinds of leads. Nothing’s worked out so far, but nobody’s giving up on me either.
Of course, I have to do my own due diligence in looking, but I get eliminated almost immediately because I’m self-employed. As a freelancer, I have no way of predicting my monthly income.
The fact that I always pay my rent on time, my credit score is above 800, I have no criminal history, a clean driving record, guaranteed Social Security income, and have excellent personal and professional references — all mean nothing to landlords unless you’re not only employed but also have an employment history.
I’m 70 and disabled. Besides spinal stenosis, sciatica and scoliosis, I have arthritis in my hands. And I’m bipolar — shrinks call me “a high-functioning individual.” That basically means I’ve learned to live a near-normal life and most people like me.
Part of due diligence is applying for that cruel subsidized-housing joke called Section 8. Obviously written by Democrats during the Great Depression, Section 8s are a wonderful deal, on paper, for low-income, disabled and old people.
But they didn’t even throw a bone to landlords. There is absolutely no advantage to a landlord to accept a Section 8 voucher, not even a tax incentive.
But the real deal-killer is the yearly federal inspection of the property. What landlord would want that?
The last time I had a Section 8, I was denied because I had a voucher. And I couldn’t find a place to live with a voucher — and I became homeless.
It was only through social connections that I found the decent place I’m about to leave after two years.
It came as no surprise when I learned only two out of 50 Section 8 participants in the last round actually found housing.
Want to find Section 8 housing? Look on the police blotter.
About the only landlords that accept Section 8 vouchers are professional corporations designed to run multi-tenant housing to federal standards.
And oh yeah, there’s that waiting list thing.
I’ve worked all my life. I am an active member of our community. I’ve always paid my taxes. Even though I was eligible for disability assistance (SSI), I chose not to go that route. I knew I could make a living without government assistance. It was a point of pride. Just because I have a mental disorder doesn’t mean I can’t work. With all due immodesty, I am a highly educated and talented individual.
But now I’m old, hurt and “unemployable.” I deserve affordable housing, subsidized or not. I feel no guilt about taking subsidized housing now. I’m not a welfare welsh. I paid my fair share of taxes for the safety net that is failing me now.
The safety net is not only failing me, the so-called safety net is failing scores and scores of other homeless folk in Nevada County. Many of us, like me, can pay reasonable rent — if housing were to be had. And subsidies would house even more of us — if housing were to be had.
The Union declined to let me write this anonymously. I wanted to be anonymous, because it’s not really about me. It’s about all of the Nevada County homeless people who can’t find or afford housing.
A colleague urged me to write this op-ed because I am a near-perfect candidate for affordable housing — and I can’t find any.
If it’s this hard for me, imagine how hard it is for other people — entire families — who need our village to come together for all of us.
Tom Durkin is a currently homeless writer and photographer in Nevada County. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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I’m approaching a quarter century of living in Nevada County, half my life, with every single year of that spent in the local, regional, state and national energy industry. Renewable energy. Vehicles. Batteries. Solar. Off-grid.…