Julian Lagoy, M.D., Psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, formerly Community Psychiatry, discusses the mental health challenges that come with the loss of a home.
- On August 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new eviction moratorium in effect through October 3.
- The policy covers renters in any county with substantial or high COVID transmission for at least 14 days.
- With the delta virus spiking across the country and the eviction moratorium set to expire in less than two months, the stress of eviction and risk of homelessness are still extremely high for many individuals.
In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) enacted the first pandemic-related eviction moratorium. It prevented lessors of covered properties from filing eviction notices, charging extra fees, or issuing penalties for unpaid rent. It expired on July 24, 2020, but new, more encompassing moratoriums have since passed.
On September 1, 2020, a new moratorium stated renters had to prove a substantial loss of income, an inability to pay rent, had made best efforts to pay some rent, and that eviction would bring them closer to or into homelessness.
Since September, a national eviction moratorium has largely been in place. However, the national eviction moratorium expired on Saturday, July 31, with more than 15 million people reportedly living in a household behind on rent.
Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri, who has experienced homelessness herself, refused to accept this. When Congress adjourned on Friday, July 30 without an agreed-upon extension in place, she staged a sit-in on the Capitol Building’s steps and did not leave, even to sleep. Fellow members of Congress, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mondaire Jones, and Jimmy Gomez, soon joined her. After four nights, Bush’s push was successful.
On August 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 60-day extension for renters in any county experiencing 14 consecutive days of substantial or high COVID transmission. Individuals can determine if they live in a covered area through the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. President Biden estimates this will cover close to 90% of renters countrywide.
The extension provides another opportunity for Congress to create legislation that upholds the moratorium—policy some experts say is necessary. “There needs to be a social safety net that keeps people from being evicted but also helps disaffected property owners as well,” explains Lessie B. Branch, director of programs community relations at Citizens Committee for New York City. “This is not about people looking for a handout on either side of the equation. And it’s not about people waiting for the government to ride to the rescue and solve people’s problems. In capitalist markets, markets need to be capitalized, and sometimes that capital needs to come from the government.”
According to Clarence Adams, CEO of Ozanam Inn, a non-profit, direct service agency serving the homeless and underserved of greater New Orleans, it’s critical for landlords and tenants to work together in applying for rent assistance programs.
“Landlords along with people facing eviction must be considered as we seek fair, compassionate, and comprehensive solutions. We need property tax relief, landlord support for property financial and maintenance relief,” adds Neli Vazquez Rowland, president, and co-founder of A Safe Haven, a non-profit social enterprise that helps people as they transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
Starting in February, the federal government sent Emergency Rental Assistance to state and local governments as part of a $46.5 billion plan.
In an August 2 statement, one day before the new eviction moratorium, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated, “Too many States and cities have been too slow to act. As the Administration made clear last week, there is no excuse for any State or locality not to promptly deploy the resources that Congress appropriated to meet the critical need of so many Americans. This assistance provides the funding to pay landlords current and back rent so tenants can remain in their homes or apartments, not be evicted.”
The Stress of Looming Eviction
With the new October 3 eviction moratorium expiration date looming, uncertainty about fund allocation or Congressional policies, and the Delta-strain spiking, people across the country are left in fear of being removed from their homes this fall.
“The possibility of being evicted from your home is one of the most stressful situations anybody can be in. The possibility of not having a place to live is extremely depressing and stressful and will significantly add to your stress and decrease overall well-being,” says Dr. Julian Lagoy, a psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers.
The Impact of Homelessness on Mental Health
No, having a home does not remove the potential to face issues such as not enough food or clothes to go around, but, as a whole, having a consistent shelter eliminates a lot of worries and uncertainty.
The concerns brought on my homelessness are unfathomable for many: “Imagine not knowing where your next meal will come from,” says Adams. “Will you get into the shelter tonight, or will you have to sleep on the streets? Will you be able to take a shower, brush your teeth, shave and change into clean clothes, or must you look for work in the same way you went to sleep last night? Physically, a lack of proper hygiene and proper nutrition will eventually lead to a breakdown in health.”
A March 2021 report from The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that on a single night in 2020, 580,466 people experienced homelessness—a 2.2% increase from 2019. This is the first time since 2010 that homelessness for family households didn’t decrease, with 30% of families made up of at least one adult and one person under 18 experiencing homelessness. These increases occurred before the pandemic began as surveyors used nights at the end of January 2020. As a result, the pandemic’s direct impact on homelessness is not fully known at this time.
The detrimental effect on someone’s mental health, however, is widely understood. “Being homeless causes constant stress and increases the risk of depression. Not having a safe place that is stable makes life a lot more difficult and absolutely has a negative impact on one’s overall health,” says Lagoy. “A homeless individual has a lot of stressors in comparison to a person who has a stable home. In my experience, a higher percentage of homeless people have a mental illness than people with stable homes.”
About 20% of homeless individuals have a severe mental illness, compared to 5.2% of the general population.
At a time when seclusion has become necessary, homelessness can create even stronger feelings of separation. “We grow in community, not in isolation,” says Branch. “Community allows for the pooling of resources. Homelessness in effect banishes individuals, isolating them from the community.”
Then there is the stress over what assistance will be available to you and how to find it. Even with the eviction moratorium, people are still becoming homeless, leading to a potential shortage of accommodation in shelters and other resources. According to Vazquez Rowland, frontline homeless providers need resources to keep up with current and possible future higher demands for shelter and assistance.
The Correlation Between Homelessness and Mental Health
There are a variety of steps to pursue if you are concerned about having to leave your home or becoming homeless. According to Adams, people facing eviction or homelessness should take the following steps:
Apply for rental assistance via their local and state governments
Seek assistance at an emergency shelter for a place to sleep and services such as counseling, medical services, employment skills, legal skills, and case management
There are many organizations and resources individuals can access for more guidance. These include:
National Alliance To End Homelessness provides information and resources on homelessness alongside a step-by-step guide on getting help if you are experiencing homelessness.
Call 211, where experts are available to help find resources and services in your area.
Feeding America has information on food banks near you.
HUD’s Find Shelter tool provides information about shelter, health care, housing, clothing resources, and more in your area.
HUD’s Eviction Prevention Resources Page tool provides information about shelters, health care, housing, clothing resources, and more in your area.
What This Means For You
The pandemic has impacted every facet of people’s lives, from employment to health. Due to these factors, for many, keeping up with rent has been impossible. “The narrative that the individual should pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they literally and figuratively have no boots is troubling,” says Branch. “Being blamed and being framed as a problem person rather than being seen as a person who is experiencing problems creates a sense of shame, isolation, which can have debilitating mental health effects.”
Click here for the full article and resources in VeryWell Mind.