There’s a lot of preconceived notions about eviction and unhoused people in this country. The narrative is almost always placing fault with the tenant.
They didn’t work hard enough.
He spent all their money on clothes and TVs.
She didn’t want to get a job.
As someone who experienced almost being unhoused three times over the course of a year, I can tell you, it wasn’t because of any of those things.
We often overlook the things that actually lead to tenants falling behind on rent, being evicted, and becoming unhoused.
Sometimes it’s because people can’t find jobs making a living wage, which means they can’t even meet rental criteria to qualify for an apartment.
It’s often because of medical emergencies that cost money and time away from work coupled with absolutely shit healthcare costs.
Some people suffer because child care is more than most peoples’ monthly income.
It’s absolutely because of a lack of affordable housing due to people buying second and third investment properties while increasing rental rates beyond what locals can pay for them.
And finally, when financial abuse is present in 98% of domestic violence occurrences, it makes it nearly impossible to afford safe housing after leaving a dangerous situation.
That ain’t even a full list my dudes.
While I can’t address everything mentioned above, I can address what to do if you ever find yourself facing a serious situation like becoming unhoused. This prioritized list covers what to handle while you have access to a residential address and what can be done even after you’re unhoused.
1. Get all of your documentation together.
2. Check your states’ tenant/landlord laws as well as Fair Housing.
Violating the Fair Housing Act is serious and expensive. I had a friend be awarded $10,000 because her landlord abruptly ended their lease when she found out my friend was pregnant. It is absolutely a pain to have to go through the government for anything. but if you know you’re being evicted based on a Fair Housing violation, pursue it. If your situation isn’t Fair Housing related, make sure you know the legal process to file eviction in your city. It is a process and you can still remain in the home for some time while that process is going on. Learn your rights so you have time to get other affairs in order before leaving.
3. Speaking of knowing your rights…
You should also know that most states still have millions left in rental AND homeowner assistance funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Both you and your landlord should find your states’ portal to apply. Remember this isn’t just on you. Your landlord has resources too.
4. While you have a residential address, get a PO Box with street addressing and a library card.
Most government correspondence is done via snail mail so having a place to receive mail is super important. Street addressing means instead of your address being PO Box 1234, you have a full street address like 123 Main Street #5678. This will allow you to receive packages, use the address for bank accounts and job applications etc. as some of those places will not accept a PO Box as a residential address. Some USPS locations offer this, as well as UPS and other mail service companies.
You need a library card because your local branch has a TON of free services. They have free internet, low-cost printing services, and public bathrooms. It’s a great option for a safe place to stay during the day or to use their services. They require proof of residence, which is why it’s important to get this while you have access to a residential address.
5. Make a list of free and safe places.
You’re going to want to know where you can park if you’re moving into your car. Learn where there are places with free wi-fi, public restrooms, laundromats, food pantries, etc. If you have shelters in your area, research which shelters have beds or how to get on those lists. I made a list of these in my phone with links to official websites and addresses for easier reference.
6. Get a prepaid phone if you cannot keep your current plan.
You need a way to be in communication for assistance services, possible jobs etc. Prepaid phones can be found at most WalMarts or drug stores. You can reload minutes easily and it’s inexpensive. Services like Ting and Mint Mobile are also great affordable options.
7. Make decisions about your stuff
You are going to want to start looking at your possessions critically and figure out what is functional to keep with you, what you can sell or donate.
And if you have the option, what can go into storage or with someone you trust. Everyone has different ideas of what is a necessity, but I will advise this. Space is a luxury now. Whatever you keep should serve a purpose to earn whatever space it’s taking, whether that be in a backpack or vehicle.
What are good things to keep or look for?
it’s going to vary from person to person. but I would highly suggest looking up videos on YouTube from people living home-free or van lifers and even doomsday preppers. You can find really good info on what to pack and how to pack up efficiently. They also offer tips on food preservation and how to stay warm/cool as the seasons change. Buy Nothing groups are also a great resource to find needed items like sleeping bags and other camping equipment, toiletries, and safety items.
8. Hygiene is one of the most important things to stay on top of once you’re unhoused.
Getting sick without access to running water or shelter can make things so much worse. Stay as clean as you can. Gyms have day passes which gives you access to showers. Truck stops also have shower facilities and sometimes laundry as well. Recreation centers typically have very low cost barriers to use their facilities. If you live near the beach, there’s always the option to use those public showers. Make sure to wear a bathing suit if you do that though. It also helps to keep any quarters you have for laundromats. This quick WikiHow list gives some other solid options too. If you need a toiletry kit, again, check local Buy Nothing groups. Shelters and food pantries usually have free kits for those that need it.
9. Pets, children, elderly and disabled family members add different needs to this list.
When my boyfriend and I were going through this, we did have pets and they were a large reason why we had issues securing housing. we knew we could not return them to the shelter. Check this article from Apartment Guide for more guidance on where to look for rehoming or assistance programs. I will say, even facing eviction, do what you can to find your pet a safe home. They’re also a victim in this situation and do not deserve to be abandoned or fend for themselves.
As far as children, elderly, and disabled needs, I am not qualified to speak on these because I was not in those situations. If these apply to you, start with federal resources like HUD and funnel them down to your state from there. Google or head over to your local library and find contact information for shelters or organizations in your area. There will likely be resources available that specialize in those needs which can either provide assistance or connect you to a group that can.
This is an extremely stressful situation and I 100% get that. There’s so much to get your head around and it’s hard to know where to start. Take a day and be mad. Be angry. Scream and cry. Trust me. The more you prepare before you’re locked out, the better. You gotta get up and get to work.
I hope you never have to use this information and that things get resolved before you even have to think about where a public restroom is. But, if it doesn’t, please know so many of us have been in your shoes. we know it’s not because you were lazy or didn’t know how to handle your money. This is a failing of more systems than you have control over.
Housing is a human right. Pandemic or not, there is no reason people in this country should have to worry about whether or not they have access to a clean and safe place to sleep at night.
About the author:
Mackenzie started her site, Life at 23k, to offer realistic and shame-free money advice to low-income and underemployed workers, who are often left out of traditional financial spaces. Her site offers tips on how to budget, save, invest, and break money taboos all while making a low wage. You can find more on her website, Lifeat23K.com, Instagram, and Twitter.