Landlords Don’t Want to Rent to Disabled Homeless People

Disabled and homeless

Credit Image: © Robin Rayne/ZUMA Press Wire


One of my biggest fears is that one day, the trauma I’ve collected while homeless will inevitably and quite ironically cause me to lose my home again. Since becoming housed, I’ve consistently received psychotherapy for PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, and anxiety. For the last year, I’ve been on multiple combinations and doses of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychosis medication, and sleep aids. Still, I worry that one day, it may not be enough.

What if one day, I lose my job because of it? What if, in the future, I cannot find an employer that understands the number of mental health days I need to continue to function normally? That would rob me of the quality of life and independence I currently enjoy and may very well rob me of my home, too.

I’ve discussed this a lot with my therapist. What would happen if my illness was not manageable one day and became so disruptive that I could no longer work?

It’s a scary thought. How can I continue being a high-functioning member of society? And by that, I mostly mean someone who can work. How can I work if some days I can’t get out of bed? Or other days, I am so overwhelmed by delusional thinking that it makes me hysterical and unable to compose myself.

I’m afraid my mental illness will become too disabling for me to work. I’m afraid of being disabled because I’m sure it can very likely make me homeless again.

“I lied on my rental application and said I was self-employed.”

My friend Lucy said this when I asked her about her experience renting on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). I also lied a lot on my rental application for the apartment I live in now. I would not dare mention that my last couple addresses were all homeless shelters. Any indication that I wasn’t a stable, money-making machine was not to be put on a rental application. Even my agent knew this. We purposely lied about everything that would hinder our chances of securing a place to live and fluffed up the rest. 

“I can say that my SSDI doesn’t even amount to minimum wage. Because I’m too disabled to work, there is no other way to improve my access to housing.”

Lucy reminded me that she couldn’t simply “pull herself up by her bootstraps” since you need to be able-bodied to do that.

“At such a low income, I can only afford illegal, substandard rentals, and there are many health and life-threatening environmental hazards in these places. There are also no meaningful legal protections from slumlords. However, there is nowhere to go other than another slum, which could be worse or even more dangerous. I’m lucky even to have this.”

When she shared the above statement, I reflected on my experience in homeless shelters and how difficult it was for social workers to find housing for us.

No one wants to rent to homeless people. Disabled homeless people? Forget about it.

While I met with my social worker weekly, I learned how other organizations that provide subsidized housing still made the process slow and painful for homeless people. We had to fit into certain boxes while not fitting into others. They wanted the “good” ones. The ones who were “inspiring” and were “the exception to the rule.”

So, the subsidized housing remained empty, and the shelters continued to fill. Why? Because poverty doesn’t come with a steady wage and a college education. Poverty didn’t come without prior evictions on your record or a good credit score. Homeless shelters catch the individual who falls through the cracks of a system that was never intended to work. Ever.

Folks like Lucy – an older, disabled woman who worked for 30-plus years before she became too disabled to continue. And just like that, she lost everything and became homeless. And I’m sure you know – anyone can become Lucy. Anyone can become disabled.

Speaking to Lucy reminded me of something that, every so often, throws me into a pit of despair:

The system only really wants to protect those who can work. Your value is attached to how much money you can make, more so, how much money you can make for somebody else. It’s so far beyond broken that it works as intended.

The system was never meant to protect those at the bottom. There is absolutely no indication that it was meant to protect those who are disabled. It doesn’t protect those with neurodivergent conditions.

Lucy continues by sharing thoughts on the latest Social Security reform bill, which fails to address any of what made her homeless:

“It fails to address the cause of homelessness for many disabled people, which is the average one- to four-year wait for a disability hearing. The wait is what made me homeless.”

“How can you have a place to live if you’re too disabled to work? And they make you wait years before even considering giving you the disability insurance you paid for your entire life? Credit score destroyed — eviction on record. So many disabled people die in any given year while waiting years for their disability income hearing. Tell me that’s not eugenics.”

This is not okay. And yet, there isn’t necessarily a public uproar over something so abhorrent. Don’t I pay taxes to protect those who need protection? What kind of system do we live in if a disabled homeless person can enter a hospital with a life-threatening condition and immediately be put back on the streets by hospital staff, knowing they could quite quickly die there next week?

Lucy suggests that there’s an “…openly spoken attitude both from the public, as well as from politicians: work = virtue. If you are incapable of work, you are not deserving of life. Ask any disabled homeless person. They’ll tell you.

Lucy says, “it’s built-in.” And I believe her. In fact, I know she is right. I’ve seen it myself.

The discrimination is built-in. There is no true equity when it comes down to it. We aren’t on equal footing, provided equal protections, regardless of the shoes we wear. The discrimination is reinforced by the Social Security system itself, by the Welfare system itself. All the eugenics, all the racism, all the discrimination, and inequality — it’s built-in.

The landlord doesn’t have to thin the herd because the system does it for him.


Jocelyn Figueroa

     

Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing.

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