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Tom Durkin: Give us shelter, please

Other Voices
Tom Durkin

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.

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.

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 tdurkin@vfr.net.


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