Unhoused in a Pandemic

While exploring the effects of the novel Coronavirus and the havoc it has wreaked upon Black American communities nationwide, one demographic is being overlooked—the ADOS homeless. With shelter-in-place orders taking effect in most cities, homeless advocates are in short supply when they’re needed most.

A woman we’ll refer to as Sharon for the sake of anonymity knows all too well the unique obstacles the ADOS unhoused must face during the pandemic.  As a homeless ADOS woman residing in Los Angeles, Sharon survives off of the small disability benefit she receives monthly. With news outlets focused on the financial and emotional impact COVID-19 has on middle-class families, it seems people like Sharon, having no family or wealth, are largely forgotten. 

Sharon insists,  “Every other group has advocates and people who make sure they’re not mistreated by the system. ADOS homeless have no-one”.

“Every other group has advocates and people who make sure they’re not mistreated by the system. ADOS homeless have no-one”.

Currently, Sharon resides in a shelter where unhoused women rent a room for a fee. Each tenant has a roommate and access to a communal refrigerator and restroom. This arrangement keeps Sharon off the streets, but she wonders, for how long? “My concern is, how do you charge people who live in abject poverty rent? How do you help the homeless by taking what little money we do have, especially when the organizations that place us in these shelters receive government money for each tenant”, she laments.

One such organization is Exodus Recovery Incorporated. According to its website, Exodus has specialized in providing “quality psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment services to Southern California communities” since 1989. Sharon began her journey with the non-profit in August 2019 when she was accepted into the Exodus program with hopes of being placed in safe, permanent housing. “The first home Exodus placed me in was a shooting gallery–a place where addicts do drugs all day.” Sharon does not use illegal drugs and receives no mental health services.

“I couldn’t sleep at night because one of the roommates would attack me as I lay in my bed…”

After weeks of making frequent complaints about her living conditions, Sharon was moved to the Weingart Center where she was assigned a bunk bed in a dormitory-style room that held a total of fifteen women. “I couldn’t sleep at night because one of the roommates would attack me as I lay in my bed. I made several complaints, but I was ignored by the Weingart staff and my caseworker, Sharon says.” Sharon likens her stay at Weingart to prison. She even has photos of the communal restroom that shows the floors and walls smeared with feces. Sharon recalls, “I paid them rent, and look how they treated me. They receive millions of dollars to provide services for the homeless. Why is it acceptable to treat people this way?” 

“It’s like people don’t care if we live or die.”

Sharon’s concerns are more than legitimate not only where Exodus and non-profits like them are concerned, but also when we consider that the ADOS unhoused are all but ignored by our government. Many families and individuals have received relief funds in the form of a stimulus check payment, but relief for the homeless does not appear to be a priority even though quarantine and shelter-in-place orders are impossible to follow when one has no home. Sharon’s current residence has placed restrictions on its tenants due to the COVID-19 outbreak: 8 p.m. curfew and no visitors.  Anyone found breaking these rules will be evicted without recourse. Sharon states, “It’s like people don’t care if we live or die.”

Reflecting on life pre and post-pandemic, Sharon believes strongly that racial hierarchies exist even within the unhoused community. She says, “Black women have to clean and behave like adults and even sometimes parents to other adults. In the shelters, it’s like people of other races are not expected to do the things that a normal adult should do and black people have to take up the slack for everyone. It’s like we have no rights because everybody knows there is no-one to stand up for us and say ‘hey you can’t do that to them.”

 

So what can be done?

 

-Become an advocate. Contact non-profit organizations to ensure the needs of ADOS homeless are being met.

 

-Contact your state and local government and demand that funds are allocated specifically for the ADOS unhoused.

 

-Listen and learn from the ADOS unhoused and allow them to share their stories. 

 

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