(TMU) – The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a massive unemployment and housing crisis in the United States. Despite the fact that millions of people are out of work, their rent and mortgage bills are still due, and many of them are now at risk of losing their homes and joining the large population of homeless people who are already living on the streets.
According to the most recent data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which was recorded in 2018, it is estimated that there are 552,830 people living homeless in the United States. Meanwhile, there are more than 17 million vacant homes across the country, according to 2019 data from the US Census Bureau.
With the pandemic causing more economic turmoil and presenting new dangers for people who don’t have a place to live, some of them have decided to take over some of these vacant homes that aren’t being used.
In Los Angeles, California, homeless single mothers calling themselves “the reclaimers” began to occupy vacant homes to get themselves and their families off the streets during this dangerous time. Back in March, local officials recognized the actions of the reclaimers and said that they will be able to stay in the homes temporarily during the pandemic.
At first, it was believed that this phenomenon was an isolated incident and just limited to this group in Los Angeles, but it turns out that similar movements have been taking place across the United States in recent weeks.
This week, Vice reported that groups of homeless people in Philadelphia are renovating vacant homes and then moving into them. Activists from organizations like Occupy PHA, the Workers Revolutionary Collective, and the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative helped move about 40 homeless people into 10 different vacant homes that were renovated as part of a group effort.
The activists and the occupants have been very secretive about the specific locations because the Philadelphia Housing Authority, a federally funded government agency, owns the properties and is threatening to remove the people living inside. The activists representing the residents are demanding that the agency transfer ownership to the people currently living in the properties.
In a statement to Vice, the agency said that they do not plan on using police officers to evict the new occupants of the homes, but said that they do plan on removing them through a court process. Ultimately though, any court order that is filed will need to be enforced by the police.
Nichole Tillman, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, said that the occupations presented a danger to the local community.
“We are dismayed and concerned that the Occupy PHA leader is assisting individuals to illegally squat in vacant houses around the city. This action is not only illegal, but it also is dangerous, and poses a real health and safety risk to not only the squatters neighbors as well,” Tillman said.
Jennifer Bennetch, an activist with Occupy PHA, said that she received a cease-and-desist order from the agency last month that threatened her with criminal charges. Bennetch said that the agency is hoarding vacant properties and driving gentrification, causing further homelessness throughout the city.
“Our housing authority is hoarding these vacant properties, and there are hard-working families that can’t afford to live anywhere,” Bennetch said.