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It’s Estimated 28 Million People May Be Homeless By September of 2020. Here’s What To Do If You Become One of Them.
10 million Americans faced eviction and foreclosure as a result of the Great Recession of 2008, causing homelessness to increase. The Coronavirus Pandemic may see almost triple that number with estimates ranging from 20 to 28 million people facing evictions and foreclosures potentially leading to homelessness.
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The Number of Homeless Could Equal the Great Depression
The homeless population in the United States is currently estimated to be in excess of half a million people. That number has the potential to grow significantly in the months ahead and is predicted to equal or even exceed the 2 million homeless during the Great Depression.
There are many options for anyone confronted by homelessness, but as the statistics show, some people find their only option is to live on the street.
Landlords and Banks are Ready
It should be no surprise that landlords and banks are ready for the expiration of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium. It’s quite likely that going into September, they will act quickly to both evict or foreclose on properties with less notice than is usually given during these kinds of legal events.
Evictions and Foreclosures Don’t Happen Overnight
Foreclosure is still a lengthy process and it can take months or even years before a home foreclosure is finalized. Evictions are another matter, although the moratorium gives a renter 30 days to vacate an apartment before a forcible eviction.
What Does Being Homeless Mean?
Put simply, “Someone living or residing in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter continuously for at least 12 months.”
12 months under those conditions is a long time. But even a week of homelessness can be severely stressful for someone who has never experienced that sense of isolation and loss, especially families.
Given the current state of affairs, many people are going to be confronted by homelessness, and even if it’s only measured in months, there’s quite a bit to think about and plan for if you think you or someone you know will be confronted with that reality.
In actual fact, homelessness rarely happens overnight, and there is usually some indication that it may be imminent. For that reason and a lot of others, it might be worth understanding and anticipating the range of scenarios that could result if you find yourself homeless.
Some solutions may bring a sigh of relief. Others are more extreme and can only be accompanied by the hope that someday things will be better.
Preparing for an Eviction or Foreclosure
If you see no short-term solutions to your financial situation, and if you fear you will be evicted or foreclosed or have received notification of eviction or foreclosure—it’s time to prepare. Especially if you’re not sure where your next home or apartment will be.
Here are some steps you should consider taking before it happens:
- Rent a Storage Unit
Storage units vary in size and price, but they are relatively cheap compared to a home or apartment. While you are facing the transition from your old home or apartment to a new place to live, you can at least have some peace of mind knowing your possessions are safe while you search for a new and hopefully permanent home.
If you feel that eviction or foreclosure is a foregone conclusion, you can slowly start moving items into the unit now rather than in a panic move the day you are legally required to vacate the property.
But be forewarned, with the number of evictions and foreclosures looming, even storage units may be in short supply, so don’t hesitate if you think you’re going to need one. Many companies offer the first month free, but with the coming demand for storage units, they’ll probably stop offering that introductory discount.
- Reach Out to Family and Friends
It’s likely you’ve already done this as your financial burdens grow, but it may be time to see if a family member or friend will allow you and your family to live with them while you get back on your feet. They may also be able to help you store some of your possessions, but make sure they understand that and keep the storage unit idea as an option.
If a friend or a family member has a vacation home, that may also be an option. They may ask you to pay utilities or even a small amount of rent, but it will give you a place to live that will afford everyone some personal privacy.
- Long-Term Living Rentals
This may not be an option if you’re under severe financial duress, but there are long-term efficiency apartments that are often rented to businesspeople who have to temporarily live far from home for months as a result of a business-related project.
The benefit is that there is no long-term contract, but some are more expensive than others. They also tend to be fully furnished, so you can leave most of your possessions in storage. They usually ask for a month’s rent in advance and any failure to pay results in them asking you to immediately vacate the premises.
Renting or Buying After an Eviction
Eviction is a mark on your credit history. Landlords and home lenders look at that closely. It’s possible that the pandemic will at least offer a reasonable excuse for any financial hardship you have endured, but landlords and banks aren’t necessarily known for their philanthropy. They’re in business and if they think you can’t afford to make your payments, they will quickly move on to find someone who can.
- Repairing Your Credit
Unfortunately, this takes time. There are government websites that offer advice on how to repair your credit, and you should start thinking about how to take those steps before you find yourself homeless.
But beware of the scams. There are numerous credit repair scams out there and, in desperate times, people sometimes make hasty decisions to find a quick solution. Stick with credible advice from trusted sources and check out any company that guarantees they can repair your credit.
- Larger Security Deposits
A standard practice with landlords is to request a higher security deposit from renters that they feel are high risk. This could mean making an upfront payment for up to 3 months of rent plus an increased deposit for any damages.
You may have to shop around for a better agreement, or you could ask a friend or family member to co-sign your contract to get a better deal with the guarantee that they will assume liability for any payments in the event that you fail to pay.
When All Else Fails
This gets to the greatest fear of anyone facing homelessness. The simple fact is that some of us don’t have a network of family and friends to help us, even in the most desperate of times. This is a particularly harsh reality for families, but it affects individuals just as well. There are options, but they fall in a range from government housing to literally living on the streets.
- Government Housing
The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a program you can apply for designed to help people find housing in rented apartments either fully or partially subsidized by the government.
The general perception of these locations is not good, although the area and neighborhood where they are located seem to have more to do with the overall environment.
The value of this type of housing is that there are no long-term contracts and if your financial situation is dire, the rent is free.
- Food and Medical Care
If you qualify for government housing, it’s also possible that you are eligible for the SNAP food stamp program and Medicaid. Here again, if you think you are facing a desperate financial time, now is the time to do some research on these programs.
Living in Your Car
This is a fairly desperate solution to homelessness, but if you’re caught by surprise, it’s a viable option. It’s obviously easier for an individual to survive this way, but families have done it as well.
Living in your car gives you some advantages over the worst-case scenario of living on the street. Here are some of the obvious benefits, and then we’ll get into some of the realities:
- Protection from the elements
- Relative security
- You own the vehicle
Other people and local authorities will eventually take a dim view of a car packed with possessions and someone sleeping in it every night. As a result, you have to figure out how to keep a low profile. Here are some general tips to make yourself less visible.
- Change locations frequently and don’t stay in the same location for more than a week.
- Install sunshades on your windshield, back window, and side windows to block any view of the inside of your vehicle. People are used to seeing sunshades in a car and it will allow you some privacy.
- Organize your visible possessions. If it looks like a pile of junk surrounding the passengers, you may attract unwanted attention, even while driving or before you put up your sunshades.
Parking locations are another consideration. Some places are highly policed or very public, and the more exposure your parked car has to prying or suspicious eyes, the more likely you’ll get hassled. Regardless of where you park, mixing up your locations from one place to another is a good idea. The longer you stay in one place, the more likely someone will notice and start to wonder what you’re all about.
Good Parking Options:
- The parking lot of a large apartment complex. People come and go all the time and usually don’t bother to take note of every car in the lot. Even then, you might want to shift from spot to spot in that parking lot. People tend to park close to their apartment, and eventually, they’ll take notice of a car that “always seems to be there.”
- The parking lot of a 24-hour big box store. Here again, cars parked overnight are not unusual although the pandemic has reduced the number of people shopping in general, so you may stand out if you are always the only car in the lot. These lots are also patrolled sometimes by either private security or local police.
- Free parking garages in large office buildings. It’s not unusual for many people to either opt to take public transportation home and leave their car overnight or to work through the night or on a night shift, especially during a pandemic. These lots are often patrolled by private security, and sunshades in a covered parking lot may look suspicious, so you might consider parking outside if you can.
- On the street. Put this in the category of hiding in plain sight. This assumes there are no meters or time limits on parking, and you should definitely move locations frequently. Anyone with a daily view of your parking location is going to eventually notice.
Bad Parking Options:
- A hospital. It may seem like an easy and obvious choice. Many people who are in a hospital or have a sick relative admitted will often spend the night. The downside is that all hospitals have robust security staffs who regularly patrol the hospital campus, including the parking lots. You may get away with it for a night, but it’s a bad option for any length of time.
- Public parks. This seems like a good idea, but almost all public parks have open and closing hours, and all are occasionally patrolled by local police.
- Public transportation parking lots. Most public transportation parking lots charge a small, daily fee for parking. The fee box is often opened and collected by local police, and the lots are usually patrolled. Any vehicle failing to pay the fee is ticketed, and if you have a lot of sunshades all over the vehicle, you’ll probably get a knock on the window from a cop.
The Best Option:
- A campground. You’ll have to pay a daily or weekly fee for a campground in a park, but no one will question why you’re parked there or why you’re sleeping in a car. Better yet, set up a tent and make yourself at home. There may be limits to how long your can stay, and many campgrounds are seasonal and closed for the winter, but it may give you some peace of mind especially during a stressful time. Then again, if millions of people end up being homeless, campgrounds may be packed.
Living in the Woods
This comes right off the idea of living in your car in a campground. If you live in a part of the United States with temperate weather year-round, you may be able to make a go of it for months in a campground.
If you’re not an accomplished camper or don’t have the equipment, you might want to start thinking about what you’ll need. What’s critical is that you make sure you can in fact reserve a spot in a campground before you assume that’s going to be your plan.
Living in a Homeless Shelter
After a natural disaster, this a common solution for many people. In some ways, you can put a pandemic in that category, but most people return to their homes or apartments after natural disaster evacuations for hurricanes and flooding. In the grand scheme of things, a homeless shelter is preferable to living on the streets, but there will be a constant lack of privacy and varying degrees of security.
Given that the pandemic may result in a massive appearance of homeless Americans, it’s possible that tent cities will emerge as an alternative to the usual fixed location for a homeless shelter. In actual fact, it may result in the emergence of Depression-Era Hoovervilles or mass tracts of people living in extreme poverty. If you think a shelter may be your only option, you can check with your local city office for locations and eligibility.
Some homeless shelters are dedicated units for veterans and their families, so if you’re a veteran, check with your local VFW or local veteran’s affairs office, which is usually located in the county complex of most counties in the U.S.
Living On The Streets
This is the worst-case scenario and as we’ve already indicated, it’s a reality for more than 500,000 Americans and growing. The best advice for living on the streets is to keep a low profile, avoid confrontation, travel light, and try to build friendly relationships with those around you.
Every day will be a challenge, from finding and cooking food to sleeping in the elements. The best solution may be to take the time to consider the options we’ve covered and hope any time spent living in a homeless environment is both temporary and soon forgotten.
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