Just Take It In (Part 2, Action Steps)

In Part 1 of this post, I linked and quoted several news stories that highlight widespread difficulties being faced by everyday people (in the United States, so probably elsewhere too). I asked readers to just sit and let the reality sink in, as opposed to jumping right into trying to find solutions.

For one thing, the problems are systemic and won’t be solved by snap judgments or finger-pointing. For another, we tend to come up with better ideas if we are willing to fully take in the present situation.

In a nutshell, my biggest takeaway from the articles linked in Part 1 of this post is this: One-third of households in the United States are currently behind on rent or mortgage payments, and are facing eviction or foreclosure. One-third.

Other issues I mentioned are all related: Certain corporate executives have seen their wealth skyrocket over the past few months. While everyday people are facing having to choose between a roof, food, and transportation. And workers, afraid of losing their jobs, meekly obey boss’s orders to return to their workstations, despite having severe symptoms of illness. Meanwhile, the government commands certain industries to keep production rolling despite the health hazards.

Of course, most of us have known about these trends for a while. And probably at least some of you have been directly suffering their effects. Covid has just magnified the systemic cracks that have been growing for a long time.

Now. You and I have only limited say in what the government or corporations will do. We can and should pressure them to take steps to address the systemic roots of the crisis. But nothing is going to be solved overnight. In the meantime, a huge percentage of everyday people have an immediate emergency on their hands: the possibility of becoming homeless in the near future. So that’s what I want to try and help with today.

In the article about the eviction/foreclosure crisis, one person said he and his family “may have to sleep in their car, stay on friends’ couches, or move to another state to crash with distant relatives.”

Now, for anyone else facing this hard choice: I’m going to offer my best advice to help you deal with the situation and even come out better off. I’ll cut to the chase: Do not allow yourself to get evicted or foreclosed on. Do anything else (legal) first.

Food: Food is still abundant even in these hard economic times, and lots of organizations are handing it out. I know it’s hard to accept handouts, but if you are in the situation described above, swallow your pride. Go to a church or food bank. Even dumpster-dive. We have way too many surplus calories floating around (at least in the USA and Canada which is the target audience for this blog — and probably in Europe and Australia too) for anyone to go hungry (or to get evicted because they chose buying groceries over paying rent/mortgage).

Car: Sell the car! Plain and simple. Sell it, rather than go homeless. You don’t want an eviction on your record. And you do NOT want to live in a car; trust me. (And I’m a person who has voluntarily lived in her vehicle — back when she had a vehicle — and who is single; no kids or spouse to take care of.) Whether or not you have a family to take care of, you do not want to live in your car. You can’t cook; there’s not enough space; you’ll spend most of your day dodging people’s prying eyes. You’ll constantly have to find money to keep the car gassed up, and you’ll constantly have to worry about it breaking down. And (if you have kids), you will risk having the kids taken away by government agencies. For those of you who are saying, “But how do I get to work without a car?” — there are many solutions, which I have often posted about before. Nutshell: start a homebased business; or find some kind of work you can do in your neighborhood; or move to a place where you can walk or cycle to work.

Roof: This is where it’s at. Keep a roof over your head. Do whatever it takes without breaking the law (and here I’m not counting local ordinances that limit the number of people living under one roof — those rules are elitist and absurd at the best of times, and downright criminal now; go ahead and violate those if you have to).

Some tips for keeping that roof over your head:

• Invite family or friends to come live with you; or move out of your place and live with them. No it’s not easy doubling or tripling up. But it beats the alternative.

• If you rent: Bargain with your landlord for lower rent. Landlords are feeling the pinch right now, and some might be willing to accept less rent rather than have to go through eviction proceedings, and rather than have to wait some indefinite length of time to start getting paid full rent again. (Speaking of lower rent, rents in some big cities have started to decline.)

• If you own a house but have a mortgage: Invite people to live with you. I would not attempt to tangle with a bank. (Unless it’s to arrange a short sale and bail out of there and move in with family or friends.)

• If you own a house free and clear: Much easier — but if you own a house free and clear, you are probably not facing foreclosure. If you are, then invite family or friends to come live with you. Or sell the house and move in with family or friends.

• Cut your utility bill by 1) turning the heat as low as you can stand (or turn off the airconditioning and open the windows if it’s hot where you are); 2) minimizing use of hot water; 3) minimizing use of clothes-dryer (use clothesline or drying rack). These three are the biggies in most utility bills.

• Sell any excess stuff you’re not using or don’t really need. Dishes, furniture, appliances, whatever. It’ll make you a bit of cash and free up space for sharing your place with other people.

• If moving to a different geographic region: Don’t think of it as temporary; think of it as your new normal. Pick a place you can stand to live; people you want to live near. You might as well; the economy’s bad all over right now. Yes the economy is worse in some places than others. But generally speaking, the pandemic economy is such that right now may be the best time in my lifetime (and I’m almost 60) to think about your own preferences first, rather than have “availability of a job” be your first criterion for choosing a geographic area. Most of us in this modern world have friends and family scattered far and wide. Pick a place where you can think about putting down roots.

• Ditto for moving in with friends/family. Don’t think of it as couch-surfing; think of it as your new normal and pick your people accordingly. Worried about imposing on people? In addition to paying them what money you can, be sure and offer them something they need, and make yourself a steady reliable source of it: cooking, landscaping, housecleaning, babysitting, whatever.

• New normal (economy): My best advice is never take fat times for granted; enjoy them but never assume they’ll last. In fact, it’s always good to assume that a fat job or brisk economy won’t last, and live accordingly within a tolerable risk margin. OK, so that’s fat times. Now that we’re in lean times, my best advice is assume this is the new normal. That has always worked for me. The worst that can happen is you end up creating a bigger safety cushion than you need; pinching more pennies than you have to. This is NOT about deprivation; that cliché “The best things in life are free” exists for a reason!

• New normal (pandemic): I don’t like to sound doom-and-gloom. But I believe we are going to have many more pandemics, possibly much more severe. And I’m treating this one as the easy-peasy dress rehearsal. Yes, I know it’s hardly “easy-peasy” — but I suspect this is a cakewalk compared with what might be coming. (And there is the fact that a new, more contagious strain of the virus has cropped up. Only in England so far, but we’d be wise to heed.) Am I in total lockdown, cowering in my house? Nope! I’m developing new habits for living well without risking the public health (or my own health) unnecessarily. And the habits are aligned with my livelihood and my deepest core eco-values.

• Make your own job. Be it home-based or neighborhood-based or whatever, this is your golden opportunity to create a livelihood for yourself that is more robust than an employer’s whim. Find a local need and fill it. Even if you only make 10 or 20 or 30 bucks a day at first, you’ll be able to get by (because you’ll have radically reduced your overhead in the ways I suggested). Just a few ideas: sewing, mending, baking, bicycle repair, knife-sharpening, errand-running, babysitting kids (outdoors; social-distance); teaching (via Zoom, Facebook Live etc.), landscaping, painting custom signs, collecting compost, organizing yard sales. Even just scrounge through the curbside “trash”; you’ll likely find an abundance of furniture, shoes, other stuff that’s good enough to sell.

• Full disclosure: A few years back, I went through a fairly lengthy phase when I hovered on the edge of being involuntarily homeless. If I’d been too proud to urban-scrounge for other people’s unwanted food (as well as wild-forage, and grow some of my own); if I’d been saddled with a car; if I’d been too snooty-bougie-minded to have roommates in a tiny apartment “at my age” (it was actually fun exercising my creativity to make a micro-bedroom for myself out of old doors and bookcases, so the roommates I depended on to help with rent could have the real bedroom) — I’d almost certainly have become homeless.

A lot of things really seem to be falling apart right now. One of my favorite quotes (which I’ve heard attributed to Marilyn Monroe) is, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

I have often found this to be so. And, collectively speaking, I absolutely think that right now is one of those times. Go make some good things fall together, for yourself and your community and the planet. I’m here to support you, so please give me a shout anytime if you could use some more ideas!