When the Climate Crisis Leaves You Homeless

In this piece from Sacramento’s Homeward Street Journal, the intersection between the housing, homelessness and climate crises are examined, and how nefarious actors are taking advantage of this confluence of events for their own gain.

Tarp-covered tents crowd the Stockton Boulevard lot as those with nowhere else to go seek cover from pounding rains during January and February.

At the Stockton Boulevard tent community in Sacramento, the mud deepens under foot as the downpour intensifies. Sheriff’s deputies circle the lot with little but arrest to offer, though on one visit they position their relief trailer nearby. People mill under the awning, grateful to get out of the rain, maybe hopeful that housing might be made available in the extreme weather.

One resident of the lot explains that he fled November’s “Camp Fire” in Paradise, a couple of hours up the road from Sacramento in the Sierra foothills and ended up here, houseless.

Of course, it’s only one tent community among many, all threatened with eviction and destruction in police raids.

Even under the eaves of City Hall, people without houses seek relief from the weather. In mid-January, at a City Council meeting, homeless advocate David Andre called upon Mayor Darrell Steinberg to end the police raids that are forcing people out into the storm in the middle of the night, evicting them from their dry perches around the perimeter of the building. Steinberg issues a public apology. The sleepers are raided and forced out again a few nights later.

It’s a homeless crisis. It’s a housing crisis. And as environmental disruption batters the people – with drought, with fire, with flood, with extreme storms – it’s also a climate crisis.

Is it a coincidence that these crises are happening at the same time? Or are the oncoming waves of eviction and exclusion, the rising numbers of destitute and houseless people, somehow related to the traumatic effects and catastrophes of a heating planet?

It is not a coincidence. At the same time these crises are happening, something else, terrible and new, has emerged: a spike in the concentration of extreme wealth at the very top of our society and government. And with this extreme wealth comes extreme power. The power to deny reality itself.

As Saskia Sassen writes in “Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy,”  “Globally, there has been a 60 percent increase in the wealth of the top one percent in the past twenty years. At the top of that one percent, the richest 100 billionaires added $240 billions to their wealth in 2012 – enough to end world poverty four times over. Bank assets grew by 250 per cent between 2007 and 2011 – from $40 trillion to $105 trillion, which is almost double the global GDP.

“Rich individuals and global firms by themselves could not have achieved such an extreme concentration of the world’s wealth. They need what we might think of as systemic help: a complex interaction of systems geared toward enabling extreme concentration.”

These interconnected systems include global corporations – Wall Street, Big Tech, Big Oil, Big Construction – and, of course, the politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties who have enabled the players to function in their own interests and in their own interests alone.

We know that bold and coordinated public action could bring some relief from the climate crisis – policies like the Green New Deals now being advanced at the federal and state level. These programs propose to spend enormous resources to rebuild transportation and energy networks in order to address the climate crisis, and to employ millions in the process. 75 percent of Democrats support these policies. We know that bold and coordinated public action could certainly relieve the housing crisis and the homeless crisis – public investment would open millions of doors to low income and people experiencing homelessness. Most people see that a right to housing (along with other human necessities) makes sense and is the only right thing to do.

New Orleans viewed ten years after Hurricane Katrina provides a model of how these systems, public and private, operate. Perhaps we should look at the results in New Orleans as we consider that empty lot and the houseless occupant expelled from Paradise after the fire.

In New Orleans, the Mayor set up a Commission dominated by key industries and real estate interests. The Mayor’s Commission helped fund and support the expansion and modernization of the global oil and gas industry there, with its vast potential for economic gain and environmental damage.

At the same time the Commission enacted policies that displaced poor residents and delayed or derailed the recovery of their neighborhoods, refusing, for example, to fund public services like street lights.

The Commission also enacted policies that favored privatization of essential public functions. New Orleans’ public education system was dismantled. Every school in the city became a charter school, excluding most disadvantaged students. Decades-old, undamaged public housing was torn down despite massive protests.

As a result of the Commission’s work 100,000 fewer African Americans live in New Orleans today. Their average incomes are 54 percent lower than they were. One third of renters pay more than half their income on rent and 75 percent of landlords refuse federal Section 8 housing subsidies.

According to Naomi Klein, disaster recovery can be summed up as “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.”

An army of real estate “flippers” is already roaming the ruins of Paradise, buying up land and houses and preparing to sell at a profit.

But here’s the important thing: the people displaced and even expelled from their communities – from the economy and the society that they know – by the climate crisis are the ones who have the greatest stake in organizing against it, using their power to dislodge the deniers and profiteers and strip them of the power they have bought and paid for with their extreme wealth. Now is the time.

Courtesy of Homeward Street Journal / INSP.ngo

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