Not even a euphemism: ‘Houseless’

See updates through October 27, 2020 at end of post.


I woke up this morning to the sound of frost melting into the roof gutter on my building. Fall has turned cold in Pittsburgh and though it was a beautiful fall (we’re past peak now), my thoughts turned to the homeless. As I wonder about the two (out of six) vacant apartments in my building (in a massive complex).

I had never gotten used to seeing the homeless encampments in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they were, especially around Oakland, often the size of small villages. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, I saw not as many homeless people, but still some. Last winter was remarkably mild, but winters here are much harsher. I wonder how people survive. And this year, in a pandemic, where homeless people are among the populations considered additionally vulnerable,[1] I’m seeing more homeless people. And then I see something like this:

Of course I agree with Ronni the Thrilla from Manila, but when some folks call Twitter toxic, well, here’s an example:

Evictions happen even when they’re illegal,[2] and a federal ban lasting through the end of the year[3] hasn’t stopped a gig economy company starting up to help landlords push tenants out.[4]

I’ve been seeing the word ‘houseless’ a lot more lately and I’ve wondered how that word would be any more nurturing or sensitive than the word ‘homeless.’ Quile’s reply makes evident that it isn’t. He, at least, means it as a form of denial.

So let’s be clear. By ‘homeless,’ I here exclude people living in single room occupancy (SRO) hotels; who are ‘couch-surfing,’ staying at friends’ houses in arrangements that generally do not last long; or sleeping in shelters, all of whom are often counted as homeless or marginally homeless. I’m talking about the people I saw on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m talking about people living in the ‘recreational’ vehicles lining streets in Silicon Valley. I’m talking about the people I saw even over 40 years ago on the edge of a landfill in Sacramento’s midtown area. I’m talking about whoever is living in that tent on the stub of an on-ramp to Bigelow Boulevard in Pittsburgh that was never built. I’m talking about people living in their cars, in tents, under freeways, or just sleeping on cardboard on the sidewalk. I’m talking about people who are nearly everywhere, whose numbers increase in part due to gentrification, in part due to ever-widening social inequality, and who are often nonetheless employed, even full time. I’m talking about people whom we all too often call the cops on.[5] I sincerely hope you get the picture.

This is a life threatening condition. These people have no legal place to be and therefore no right to live, no right to life. Almost everything they do some way, somehow costs more money than if they were housed. Homelessness is a trap, nearly impossible to escape unaided. The marginally homeless, the people I excluded in the previous paragraph are a very short step away from this.

But we’re supposed to see them as ‘houseless’ not homeless? That’s not even a distinction, let alone one deserving attention.


Update, October 22, 2020: (This language has been revised for completeness since originally posted late October 21, 2020.) So I was wondering about possible evictions, specifically about two vacant apartments in my building, at my apartment complex.[6] Guess what? The Alden South Hills is pursuing 44 evictions. A magistrate judge has already refused some of them, giving tenants additional time to pay.[7] I have always paid my rent here on time, but in my experience, with regard to rent payments, the management does adopt a rather threatening tone, carrying an undertone that if you live in this complex, you are a deadbeat, so it’s not at all unreasonable to suspect that some vacancies in the complex may be to avoid being evicted and thus to avoid the difficulties of finding a new apartment when evictions have been recorded.

Update, October 23, 2020: Landlords are finding ways around the eviction moratorium, which expires at the end of the year anyway, but nonetheless suing to overturn it. It’s not at all apparent how folks who are already failing to pay rent are going to be able to find new apartments, so evictions effectively render them homeless. In a pandemic. “When tenants are evicted, they often move in with other family members, increasing the size of households and the chance for viral transmission.”[8]

Update, October 27, 2020: As previously noted (see the update for October 23), landlords are finding ways around the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction ban as renters are unlikely to be able to catch up on the rent. Meanwhile, it’s a real good time to be selling a home,[9] as fortunes diverge widely between the well-off and the poor in a “K-shaped recovery.”[10] That latter point strikes me as crucial: Sure, landlords can evict those they see as “deadbeats,” even get a gig economy company to help with those evictions,[11] but I don’t know where they hope to get replacement tenants from when millions are being evicted[12] because they already don’t have the money to pay rent and therefore can’t come up with move-in deposits.[13] All they’re accomplishing is an increase in suffering both from the evictions themselves and from the pandemic as the evicted move in with friends and family and live in closer quarters,[14] while the housing remains empty.

  1. [1]Zak Cheney-Rice, “Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself,” New York, April 27, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/coronavirus-inequality-america.html
  2. [2]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants
  3. [3]John Fritze and Nicholas Wu, “Trump administration announces nationwide eviction moratorium through end of the year,” USA Today, September 1, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/01/trump-imposes-eviction-moratorium-because-covid-19-pandemic/5686402002/
  4. [4]Ashwin Rodrigues, “Gig Economy Company Launches Uber, But for Evicting People,” Vice, September 21, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ep435n/gig-economy-company-launches-uber-but-for-evicting-people
  5. [5]Sam Allard, “In Bay Village, Someone Called Cops on a Sleeping Homeless Person. It was a Statue of Jesus,” Cleveland Scene, October 15, 2020, https://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2020/10/15/in-bay-village-someone-called-cops-on-a-sleeping-homeless-person-it-was-a-statue-of-jesus
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Not even a euphemism: ‘Houseless,’” Not Housebroken, October 18, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/10/18/not-even-a-euphemism-houseless/
  7. [7]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh-area apartment complex The Alden South Hills seeking large-scale evictions,” Pittsburgh City Paper, October 21, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/pittsburgh-area-apartment-complex-the-alden-south-hills-seeking-large-scale-evictions/Content?oid=18223682
  8. [8]Kriston Capps, “Landlords Challenge U.S. Eviction Ban and Continue to Oust Renters,” CityLab, October 22, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-22/landlords-launch-legal-attack-on-cdc-eviction-ban
  9. [9]Kriston Capps, “Landlords Challenge U.S. Eviction Ban and Continue to Oust Renters,” CityLab, October 22, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-22/landlords-launch-legal-attack-on-cdc-eviction-ban; Will Parker, “Struggling Rental Market Could Usher in Next American Housing Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/struggling-rental-market-could-usher-in-next-american-housing-crisis-11603791000; Kyle Swenson, “Renters thought a CDC order protected them from eviction. Then landlords found loopholes,” Washington Post, October 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/10/27/trump-cdc-eviction-moratorium-loopholes/
  10. [10]Heather Long, “The recession is over for the rich, but the working class is far from recovered,” Washington Post, August 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/08/13/recession-is-over-rich-working-class-is-far-recovered/
  11. [11]Ashwin Rodrigues, “Gig Economy Company Launches Uber, But for Evicting People,” Vice, September 21, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ep435n/gig-economy-company-launches-uber-but-for-evicting-people
  12. [12]Regina Garcia Cano and Michael Casey, “Wave of evictions expected as moratoriums end in many states,” Associated Press, August 4, 2020, copy in possession of author; Michelle Conlin and Christopher Walljasper, “Time’s up: After a reprieve, a wave of evictions expected across U.S.,” Reuters, October 19, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-housing-eviction-insight/times-up-after-a-reprieve-a-wave-of-evictions-expected-across-u-s-idUKKBN27415U; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants; Renae Merle, “Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit,” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/06/eviction-moratoriums-starwood/
  13. [13]Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants; Will Parker, “Struggling Rental Market Could Usher in Next American Housing Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/struggling-rental-market-could-usher-in-next-american-housing-crisis-11603791000
  14. [14]Kyle Swenson, “Renters thought a CDC order protected them from eviction. Then landlords found loopholes,” Washington Post, October 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/10/27/trump-cdc-eviction-moratorium-loopholes/

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