As the COVID-19 incidence rises again, the Biden administration, with their alleged immense desire to keep people housed, are nowhere to be found.
The Delta variant is surging in much of the United States, sending thousands to the hospital daily, and eviscerating the other COVID-19 variants. More than 90 million eligible people in the country haven’t been vaccinated and hospital beds are filling up in dangerous numbers. In Arkansas, for example, only eight ICU beds were available in the entire state on Monday. Florida has seen record numbers of infections amidst a “no-mask mandate” and Louisiana doctors are fighting against vaccine misinformation as the virus spreads across the state. Despite all this, the Biden administration allowed the nationwide eviction moratorium to expire on Saturday, July 31st, claiming their hands were tied by the Supreme Court (and specifically by famed demon Brett Kavanaugh).
The expiration of the eviction moratorium came at a critical moment when at least 3.6 million people are facing eviction in the next two months, with around 6 million behind on payments. Biden claimed to want to keep people in their homes amidst this public health and economic crisis, but the evidence suggests otherwise. If he really cared about keeping people in their homes, would he be fast-tracking deportations? Would he be allowing thousands to be sent back to prison after they’d been placed in home confinement during the pandemic? I don’t think so. And yet, that’s exactly what is happening at the White House—and it’s what organizers warned us would happen when no one actually had a plan or means to hold accountable the neoliberal administration they begged us to vote for. Of course, it wasn’t just the president at fault. We can also blame the Democrats, who have control of both the House and the Senate, for not trying to pass a congressional solution until two days before the ban was set to expire. What on earth are we paying these people to do all day if not at least pretend to try?
Eventually, after days of pressure from organizers (and Cori Bush), Biden agreed to extend the eviction moratorium for only 60 days, in areas where the Delta variant was especially bad. Aside from the fact that this moratorium is woefully too narrow to deal with the crisis at hand, there is another problem. During the lapse of the first nationwide moratorium, certain states and cities allowed courts to begin processing evictions. That Monday, evictions had already begun and can continue if they live in counties that aren’t covered by this new eviction ban. Disbursement of rental assistance to struggling renters is also going abysmally. Though disbursements were greater in June than they were for all of January to May combined, the Biden administration has only given renters $3 billion of the $46 billion that’s been allocated for assistance. So, if tenants aren’t receiving government aid and landlords are given the green light to evict their tenants for non-payment, the president and his ilk know what will happen. And it will happen fast, as two months is not nearly enough time for folks to secure stable, safe housing for the remainder of the pandemic.
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Meanwhile, the country is ramping up the war on homeless people. In Los Angeles, where there are at least 66,000 people without homes, Mayor Eric Garcetti (evil) signed legislation that criminalizes homeless encampments throughout the city—a city that is already deeply violent toward the unhoused. In LA, there are too few shelters, most of which have untenable policies, leaving people without their possessions and without their families. Most people who even make it into shelters cycle back to the street shortly after, where they’re subject to dehumanizing street sweeps where their belongings are stolen and disposed of by the city. Now, instead of housing people during the worsening pandemic, LAPD will be tasked with arresting and detaining homeless people for simply trying to get some sleep.
It’s not just in LA where unsheltered people are facing the wrath of an uncaring and violent government. While COVID exacerbated economic uncertainty and worsened the housing crisis, police in Hawaii used COVID relief funds to buy a robotic dog with which to surveil homeless people. Portland revitalized street sweeping efforts after a pause during the worst parts of the pandemic, claiming these would help with sanitation efforts (as if housing people wouldn’t help far more with health concerns). In the winter, Truthout reported that Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, New Orleans, Dallas, and San Jose all continue to physically displace houseless people while seizing their personal belongings. In New York, homeless folks are being moved out of hotels and into shelters as the COVID-19 incidence rises again. The Biden administration, with their alleged immense desire to keep people housed, are nowhere to be found.
As always, politicians prove their worth with how they respond to the ever-worsening crises we face. We’ve known that Biden was going to bring much of the same apathy and empty promises to office, but seeing it in action is no less jarring and cruel. As rich politicians deliver platitudes, mutual aid workers scramble on the ground to get resources to people who need them, as they’ve always done in the face of government negligence. It is becoming more and more clear that it is people, not politicians who come together and get things done when crises loom. But when will we, as a country, admit that the government can’t and won’t protect us? And when we finally do admit that, how will we support and strengthen those who have been doing the work for decades?
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