Last week, my students and I worked with several unhoused persons who had been recently living in dangerous, unhealthy apartments or homes in our community of Indianapolis. One, a young mother of a toddler with another baby soon on the way, had just left a home where eight people across three generations were living. The house had no central heat, so space heaters were the only source of warmth during a month when the temperature dipped below zero for several days. Those heaters and everything else electrical in the house were linked to a complex web of extension cords connected to a solitary working outlet.
In late August, a group of Chicago residents were forcibly removed from a building they called home, a longtime-vacant property owned by the Chicago Housing Authority. The residents were part of a rotating group of squatters who had occupied the home for 20 months, a group that included a housing activist and people who had been living in tents in a nearby homeless encampment. For two years prior to the occupation, the home—a picturesque two-story property in the quickly gentrifying Humboldt Park neighborhood—had been vacant. It’s one of more than 2,000 housing units under the Chicago Housing Authority’s ownership that lie empty, according to city data.
New York City mayor Eric Adams declared in August that there is “no room” in the city for hundreds of migrants being forced to sleep on the street because shelters are already crowded and in disrepair. The mayor initially encouraged those seeking shelter to “consider another city” as they struggled to survive. Adams announced plans to house as many as 2,000 in a tent complex on Randalls Island and later designated space on an airfield to house asylum seekers. These spaces are identified, as the claim goes, that the city simply doesn’t have housing space for those seeking asylum, especially because it is already difficult enough for residents to find adequate, affordable housing.