How can we be ‘safer at home’ without a home?

Democrats and the governor are failing to protect Coloradans from homelessness

July 5, 2020 6:01 am

A camp of people experiencing homelessness encircles the grounds of Morey Middle School on June 27, 2020, in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

When I was 15 years old, my mom, my brother and I came home in Arizona to find an eviction notice on the door. If you receive an eviction notice, you’re entitled to a court hearing, but we didn’t know this at the time. We packed what we could, including our two dogs, into our Chevy Suburban, and left. In the aftermath, we hopped around between cheap hotels or slept in the car for months before finally settling out of state.

Right now, thousands of Coloradans face the same reality in the middle of a pandemic. They are confronting the prospect of homelsessness. All public health guidance tells us that our best defense is staying home, and Gov. Jared Polis uses the slogan “safer at home.”

But what if you have no home?

[bctt tweet=”All public health guidance tells us that our best defense is staying home, and Gov. Jared Polis uses the slogan “safer at home.” But what if you have no home?” username=”@newslineCO”]Polis claims to be doing everything in his power to protect Colorado from COVID-19. On April 30, Polis implemented an eviction moratorium. On June 13, he let it expire. He doesn’t have less power than he did a month ago. He’s just less willing to act.

The public health emergency is no less acute. The disease remains prevalent in the state and it continues to spike to record levels nationwide. Against this backdrop, Polis, a former member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has decided to allow evictions to proceed. This choice causes people to be homeless, which will mean less social distancing and further spread of the disease.

More than 20 states, including Florida and deep-red Indiana, still have eviction moratoriums. This week the governor backtracked and decided it was not safe enough for bars to be open. He should make the same decision regarding evictions. If it is not safe enough to go to a bar it is not safe enough to lose your home. This is unacceptable.

A family in Brighton was removed from their home last week. A woman in Douglas County was forced to call into a remote eviction hearing. How can it be that we have decided that it is not safe to hold a court hearing in-person but then allow people to be removed from their homes?

2018 was a wave year for Democrats nationwide but especially in Colorado. Colorado voters elected Democrats up and down the ballot, and the party currently controls the state Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion. These Democrats promised to stand up for the working class and communities of color. So far, those same Democrats, including the governor, are failing to step up and protect those communities from homelessness as we fight COVID-19.

When asked about the expiration of the moratorium, Polis remarked that many renters had become “significantly delinquent.” But, to the extent this is true, it is through no fault of their own. COVID-19 has ravaged the Colorado economy, and it is unclear when a recovery will begin. It is clear that we must continue to do everything in our power to prevent the spread of the virus and help those suffering in the wake of the economic crash.

We are on the brink of crisis. According to research published jointly between the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project and the Aspen Institute, as many as 350,000 Coloradans risk losing their homes. And as many as one in five renters will struggle to pay when expanded unemployment benefits expire at the end of the month. Like the virus, the impact of this housing crisis will hit Black and Latinx communities hardest. Housing justice is racial justice.

Coming home to an eviction notice is one of the worst things that can happen to a person in normal times. You immediately have to grapple with the uncertainty of not knowing where you will sleep and the anxiety of not having a space you call your own. Now imagine having to grapple with that in the middle of a pandemic, when all public health guidance tells us we are “safer at home.” Coupled with the challenge of making ends meet in a time of record unemployment.

People are scared, and our most sacred duty should be to protect the vulnerable in times of crisis. By failing to protect renters who lost their jobs due to our collective efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, Polis is condemning people who made sacrifices to save their neighbors’ lives to homelessness and, in doing so, undermining the effort to contain the disease. He has the power to stop exacerbating this crisis, and he should immediately exercise that power by issuing another eviction moratorium.

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Javier Mabrey
Javier Mabrey

Javier Mabrey is a lawyer and former policy advocate with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. He is a Democratic candidate for Colorado's 1st House District.