By: Nayeli Gutierrez
Avoid eye contact. Do not give them money because they will just spend it on drugs and alcohol. They are all crazy.
These are phrases I am sure we have all heard when told about how we should interact with and treat homeless people. Indeed, these are probably things that we think as we pass someone on the street or at a light. The negative assumptions we make about homeless people are universal and extremely dehumanizing. These assumptions perpetuate the false notion that there is something inferior about our homeless population; in other words, if someone is homeless, it is their fault, their failure, their weakness.
The reality is that there are many factors out of someone’s control that can contribute to them becoming homeless. For example, one can experience job loss, unexpected and disabling health conditions, or simply not make enough to afford a home in California’s extremely expensive housing market. A Los Angeles Times reporter shared the experiences of four people enduring homelessness for these reasons: (1) a senior citizen; (2) a nurse; (3) a chef; and (4) an eighth-grade student living in Santa Barbara and making use of the “Safe Parking” program — they were all homeless and living out of a car. Someone may also become homeless when they escape an abusive environment. In many cases, a person fleeing from an abusive relationship lacks the resources to find housing and rely on homeless service programs for food and shelter. 
COVID-19 and the pandemic-induced recession will exacerbate California’s dire homeless crisis. Many otherwise stable American families are at risk of losing their home because they lost their job and can’t pay rent.
Recently, the pause on foreclosures and evictions for people living in government assisted housing or in housing supported by federal loans was terminated. With a looming eviction crisis and the ending of federal unemployment benefits, many Americans are questioning how they will pay for rent, food, and other essentials. In California, many moratoriums in place are set to expire in the coming weeks. Therefore, almost 42% of renters (over two million households) are at risk of eviction. Estimates predict that within the next four months there will be over 1.5 million eviction filings in California alone. Nationally, those numbers rise to include over 17 million households at risk of eviction and an estimated 11.6 million eviction filings.
The current housing market cannot support millions of newly homeless people because there aren’t enough affordable and available rentals. In 2018, the reported number of extremely low-income renter households in the San Diego – Carlsbad area was 104,362, while the number of affordable and available rentals was 19,423. That leaves a shortage of 84,939 affordable and available rental homes. In the Los Angeles area, that number rises to 377,117. The problem is exacerbated when one looks at the rising price of rental homes and the slow growing or stagnant worker wages. In 2018, 91% of extremely low income renters (at or below the poverty line) in San Diego-Carlsbad were cost burdened, meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on housing and utilities, leaving them with the possibility of facing difficulty paying for other necessities. That percentage only drops to 89% for people with an extremely low income to 50% of the average median income in their area. 84% of renters in San Diego-Carlsbad are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their income on housing and utilities.
Due to historic discriminatory policies denying people of color homeownership and the overall lack of wealth in minority communities, these evictions will undeniably disproportionately affect people of color. In addition, many Americans are choosing to and are in support of voting by mail for the upcoming election. If millions of people get evicted from their homes, they will have no address to receive their ballots and therefore not be able to vote safely. If these citizens are able to go to a polling place, they will be put into an unsafe situation and exposed to the risk of getting infected by COVID-19. Inevitably, the eviction of millions of Americans will cause a large portion of the population to be excluded from this year’s election. As previously established, the eviction crisis will disproportionately infringe the right to vote for people of color, compounding generations of underrepresentation in government.
If we look at the greater implications of this looming eviction crisis, we see that there are a multitude of concerns. On top of putting millions of Americans onto the streets during a pandemic, the United States would be worsening its already great and present homelessness problem. The hardships and stress that come along with homelessness often lead Americans to develop mental health disorders and alcohol and drug addictions, which makes it exponentially more difficult to get out of their situation. In 2019, 42.3% of California’s homeless population was severely mentally ill, had a substance use disorder, and/or had HIV/AIDS. For people experiencing homelessness, getting access to healthcare is extremely difficult because of its cost and the pricing for those with preexisting conditions. Treatment and preventative care is therefore often unavailable for a homeless person, and their experiences undoubtedly worsen their condition.
These are only some of the factors that people cannot control and can lead them to homelessness. Currently the pandemic is putting more people at risk. Sometimes a person can do everything right and circumstances out of their control will put them in a situation that is difficult to get out of. No one is immune from becoming homeless. It is important to treat homeless people with compassion and empathy and advocate from their needs.
 https://files.hudexchange.info/reports/published/CoC_PopSub_State_CA_2019.pdf (statistic not explicitly stated but retrieved from other statistics)