Rising Unemployment Increases Number of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

Stark Reminder of Americans Living Just One Paycheck Away from Losing Their Homes

An April 4, 2020 The New York Times article, “24 Hours in a Pandemic Nation,” shared many moving snapshot stories of what Americans are experiencing during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

These snapshot stories include ones that show the socioeconomic divide in the United States between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

One of the snapshots tells the story of someone newly experiencing homelessness as a result of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Donna Danahy is 58 and lives in Missouri. Like millions of Americans, she recently lost her job. Danahy worked for a fast food restaurant and when it closed for business a few weeks ago, except for the drive-through, she lost her job.

On April 4, 2020, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development discussed New Jersey’s rapidly increasing employment numbers. In New Jersey, 362,000 people have applied for unemployment as a result of the national COVID-19 public health crisis.

On April 4, 2020, TAP into Verona/Cedar Grove reported, “Within the first week of Gov. Phil Murphy’s enactment of the stay-at-home order and shut-down of nonessential businesses, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development experienced a 1,600% increase in volume in unemployment applications, causing the state’s outmoded systems to crash. “

Ms. Danahy’s story is likely playing out similarly in New Jersey and across the United States. With so many New Jerseyans and Americans living just one crisis away from homelessness and/or eviction, homelessness numbers are expected to rise.

As just one example of how job loss can quickly lead to homelessness, “A co-worker she had been staying with left town, leaving Ms. Danahy homeless. For several days she parked her 2006 Toyota Camry in a truck stop, …”

“The plan had been to move into the new place on April 1. But the landlord told Ms. Danahy she would release her unit if she could not come up with the money by April 14. She was hired for a $13-an-hour job at a grocery store deli but could not start until she got her birth certificate, which was on its way in the mail.”

As Ms. Danahy’s story tells us, even if someone recently loses their job and then finds another low-wage job working in an area of retail that is currently booming, it is not always an immediate solution to preventing homelessness. Without savings set aside for emergencies, people will lose out on housing opportunity.

“A social services organization secured her the hotel room for a week. But what would she do once the week was up? She began to cry. It was hard not to feel vulnerable. She has asthma. She wondered if she would get infected from all the moving around.”

What will become of those who have underlying health conditions that put them at the greatest risk for contracting COVID-19? Being forced to surf from couch to couch or live in their cars or outside does not allow for safe social distancing. While a motel room provides the opportunity to self-isolate, how long will there be funding for them to live in motels?

Click here for more information about “Health Resources to Assist the Population Experiencing Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”