Those who never had a home to lose

Marketplace Staff Apr 23, 2010
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Those who never had a home to lose

Marketplace Staff Apr 23, 2010
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Tess Vigeland: Rosette Royale is seeing a different side of the real-estate bust here in Seattle. He’s the assistant editor of Real Change, a weekly street paper sold by the homeless and low-wage earners. On a rainy day this past week, he told us more about the folks who never had a house to lose.


Rosette Royale: What if you don’t own a home and probably never will — where’s your dream then? What do you do if your someone like Isaac Chapiro?

Isaac is a friend of mine, here in Seattle. He’s homeless and has been for more than 10 years. He’s camped out in tents tucked in parks, trying to stay warm and dry during our rainy winters. He’s slept in a truck for a while too, a ’74 Chevy pickup someone gave him. His high point came when he got the rights to park a camper-trailer in a church parking lot. He ran an extension cord from church to trailer, providing electricity to cook food and stay toasty. Isaac was psyched.

But since last fall, things have gone from “Ooooh, that’s bad” to “Dang, that’s terrible!” for Isaac. The church only let him stay in the parking lot for six months, so he had to vacate. Shortly after that, he wound up parking on the street. Then his truck broke down. He got tickets for not moving his vehicle. The truck and trailer got impounded. Two weeks ago, both were sold at an auction. And, once again, Isaac had nowhere to live.

Of course, these days, we hear a lot about people who lose their homes. It was just last week that a new report said that foreclosures in the United States had jumped by 7 percent. In King County alone, where Seattle is, 741 homes entered in foreclosure proceedings in March.

Now, how many of these homeowners facing foreclosure, or renters living in soon-to-be foreclosed properties, will become homeless? That’s unknown. But listen to this: There was this 2009 survey conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless and other non-profits. And they found that of almost 200 national organizations that assist the homeless, 10 percent of their clients had wound up on the streets due to home foreclosures.

And while everyone can agree that the increase in home foreclosures is a newsworthy story, there’s this other story, and an important story, that’s out there that the mainstream media often miss. It’s the plight of the long-term homeless, the ones who’ve never owned a home or rented an apartment. They’re people like my friend Isaac, and they deserve to have their stories told.

Just the other day I ran into Isaac. I asked where he stayed at night. He walked me two blocks and pointed to the doorway. “Right here. This is it,” he said, the exasperation clear on his face.

Isaac doesn’t know when he’ll have the money to buy a tent, much less another vehicle. As for renting or owning, those are both out of the question for the immediate future. Even so, he still holds on to his own version of the American Dream: To no longer be defined by what he lacks — a home — but by what he has — a desire to prosper, to live a better life. Though he wouldn’t mind an affordable apartment either.

TESS VIGELAND: Commentator Rosette Royale of Seattle’s street paper Real Change.

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