By Mandee Seeley
Dear President Biden,
We tend to think of big cities when it comes to houselessness, and the stereotypes that go along with it. Tents lined along the streets, addiction and mental health crisis happening for all to see, and people struggling en masse to find and maintain a safe place to call home. The issue looks a little different here in rural Sisters, Oregon. Folks are scattered throughout the national forest surrounding the city and aren’t always seen, but the stigma remains. People assume that if they just got a job or tried harder, they could be housed, but Mr. President we both know, it’s not that simple.
I’ve spent three of my six years here living in the woods with my family. I made $19 an hour before Covid hit, and I still couldn’t afford the rent. I struggle with mental health issues, and even though I could hold myself together most days, surviving in a national forest with your family is no way to live. It’s hard living outside when you don’t have the resources just to be warm. People die out here, and it’s not just in the winter anymore. Given the extreme heat and wildfire smoke, thousands of individuals and families are displaced from their housing and put at-risk every year now in the American West.
Housing has become a privilege in this country, but like air to breathe and water to drink, it’s a basic human need. It’s also a social determinant of health, like access to economic stability, education, food and healthcare. By not providing every person in this country a foundation on which they can build or rebuild their lives, we are setting people up for failure. Couple this with an addiction, isolation, mental health struggles, stress, and/or trauma, and people are existing in a constant survival mode. It’s a recipe for a slow death. We can change that.
Talking isn’t enough anymore, it’s time for action. The right to housing is still being denied to more than a million people in this country right now. Getting out of houselessness is like a ladder. Temporary shelter is the bottom step and permanent, stable housing is at the top. There are many steps in between.
Here are some things you could do at the federal level:
- Universal housing vouchers. (These vouchers should match the local market rate.)
- Fund permanent supportive housing and transitional housing for anyone who needs it.
- Fund more addiction and mental health services.
- Fund alternative and creative housing approaches.
- Ban criminalization of people experiencing houselessness.
- Expand and extend the rapid rehousing program.
- Incentivize business owners and landlords to get involved.
- Create a nationwide housing first program.
- Mandate all levels of government to participate. (They don’t always put residents first.)
- Bring people with lived experience to the table and pay them for their time. Create incentives for organizations to do the same.
Mr. President, if you feel like this is too much to ask for, I encourage to imagine having to survive in a National Forest with your family, constantly having to pack up everything you own and remain on the go just to evade law enforcement for the crime of existing. That’s the reality. Imagine going camping for an extended period of time without the luxuries of home, all while you’re harassed and treated like dirt by your own community. That’s what it’s like to be houseless where I live. It’s exhausting and humiliating. It takes a toll on your mental health. Hundreds of thousands of Americans don’t have the option to return home after a long weekend of camping. People experiencing houselessness don’t have that option. There are so many good people who have ended up homeless because of the lack of living wage jobs and access to affordable housing. They remain hidden, and on the go, surviving the only way they know how. They deserve a roof over their head, period. They deserve a safe place to call home. We must do better Mr. President.
Mandee Seeley is a Florida grown advocate with lived experience of addiction and houselessness who has found her community in Central Oregon. When she’s not trying to save the world, she enjoys exploring, hiking and reading to expand her body, mind and soul.
Housing for the People is a column produced by the International Network of Street Papers from people on the frontlines of the housing justice movement in America and beyond.
Courtesy of INSP North America / International Network of Street Papers