It’s nice to be able to share my fears with friends like you. It would be horrible if I had to just bottle up my fear, for example, of being in a mega-earthquake, trapped under a fallen beam and waiting in vain for help to come, with nothing to eat but the bugs and spiders that crawl in my mouth and nothing to drink but water trickling on my face from a nearby broken water line.
Then help doesn’t come until a rescue crew with dogs comes by, and the dogs bark, but someone in the crew says, “there couldn’t be anyone alive down there — the dogs must be smelling a squirrel.”
A less scary fear, but similar, is that I finally decide to test whether I can use my cell phone to call from one of my building’s elevators, so that I’d feel safer if the elevator broke down. So to test the phone, I take an elevator to the 12th floor. At the 12th floor, the door doesn’t open. I try to call for help, and it doesn’t work. I can’t go to another floor. A message on the phone says I lost cell service and to keep trying again.
I realize it was as I always expected it would be. By trying to test whether I was safe, I jinxed myself. It would be three days before any resident thinks to complain to building management that elevator #1 is stuck on floor 12. By then, it will be Saturday and management will be off until Monday at 9 a.m. The resident won’t mind, because they could still use elevator #2.
Fortunately, I would have had with me a 1.5-liter bottle of my favorite red wine, and it would have had a twist-off cap. Unfortunately, that would be gone four hours into the 120-hour ordeal, and I’d be a wreck by the end, having gone from my baseline yellow on the anxiety scale through orange, then red, then flaming purple during the other 116 hours.
Those are personal fears, but I’m not limited to personal fears. I can, believe it or not, be fearful for the general public.
I have a new such fear that was inspired by the CNBC headline “Looming evictions may soon make 28 million homeless in U.S., expert says.” It’s an interview with Emily Benfer, a tenants’ advocate based in Washington, D.C., concerning what to expect as eviction moratoriums expire around the country. The headline as usual goes for the worst case — she allows it might only be 20 million.
Also, she doesn’t break down the expected impacts. In the past, for every 100 people evicted, 25 are accepted into homes of friends or family, so they don’t add to the street and shelter count. Still, that leaves us with a boost of 15 million people living outdoors or in shelters. Since most of the shelters needed won’t be built by then, by “shelters” we have to mean mostly emergency refugee camps.
Among the states, Washington has a pretty average population, so we can figure we’ll see that boost look like 15/50 = 0.3 million = 300,000 people, roughly. Where do you think they will all end up? And what do you think that would do to the economy, to homeless advocates, to local politics? This is where the fear just walks in and takes the best seat in your living room, having kicked its occupant to the floor.
The increase should be delayed in King County because of laws passed to mitigate the end of the eviction moratorium in the county and Seattle. But we can’t expect it to be delayed forever. We have 30 percent of the population of the state, so look out for an eventual increase of 90,000 homeless people. Possibly more, because we are more likely to be renters here.
That means more than seven times as many people in King County will need to sleep outside or find a shelter to sleep in. This doesn’t take into account the numbers of homeless people who will migrate to King County from surrounding counties. Our shelters are already mostly full. We will have to either allow many more tent cities and rough dwellings, some on the scale of Hooverville in the Great Depression, or there will be authoritarian refugee camps, or both.
Many services will collapse. People will be living on Top Ramen and bread.
Read more in the July 22-28, 2020 issue.