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First-Person Homeless: Kirsten Anderberg

Apartment houseAs we recall from English class, if someone tells or writes a narrative using “I,” that story is being told in the first person. There is a quite a growing body of “first-person homeless” literature, and Kirsten Anderberg is one of its shining lights. Her first university degree was in political science. Last year, she became a Master of Arts in history and archiving.

This is from her bio:

She has published more articles in first person by a woman street performer than ever published prior in history. Her historical work regarding street performance and busking is filling a gap too long neglected.

These achievements are splendid, but consider the irony. If ever there was a writer with no need of diplomas to certify her mastery, Anderberg is that writer — brilliant, with street cred up the wazoo (a perfectly valid expression, meaning “in great abundance or plentiful supply,” and, in this case, it also means “equivalent to a Ph.D.”)

Most of her published work has stemmed from first-hand experience in the areas of natural health, political activism, civil rights, poverty, feminism, performing arts, homelessness, and institutional history. Her “Philanthropy in Child Protection Institutions,” subtitled “Community Volunteers Be Aware: Gifts Can Make Kids Targets in Institutions,” is outstandingly powerful and revelatory. We admire those who speak truth to power, but Anderberg does something even more rare and courageous: she speaks truth to the well-intentioned but clueless.

With a target in her sights, Anderberg is merciless and unrelenting. Her piece on the Section 8 voucher program for low-income housing assistance is absolutely scathing. It drips with scorn, and not in any fuzzy, generalized way. It is packed with specific examples of egregious failure spelled out in chapter and verse. She relates several nightmare scenarios — not imaginary ones — but horrible situations that have actually happened to people she knew and has worked with.

Apparently, in any given area, 90% of the rental units cost more than the Housing Authority has decided a Section 8 tenant can pay. Excesses and follies, Anderberg tells it like it is, explains it all for you, and ties it up in a ribbon with a bow. How many people do you know who would actually call 300 different Los Angeles apartment ads to determine that only three landlords would take Section 8 vouchers?

And then she explains the big Catch-22. Really, it’s amazing that anyone ever finds a place to rent. The waiting time to get into the program can be unbelievable, long enough so a single mother’s kids grow up and leave home before she can qualify, and then because there are no kids, she still can’t qualify.

Anderberg says,

It seems at every turn the government is trying to make sure only a small percentage of those who qualify for Section 8 can get it, and then those who finally do get it, cannot use it!… Many people give up every month in exhaustion, not using their Section 8, forfeiting it after waiting years for it, as they could not find any way to actually use it for rent anywhere.

Even the minor irritations are inimical to the quality of life. Like having the marked Housing Authority vehicle pull up to your door to make an inspection, letting all the neighbors know your loved ones are Section 8 riff-raff.

Furthermore,

The Section 8 ‘inspections’ seem more to check on the participants’ behaviors and lifestyles than to actually inspect for housing code and standards violations.

Then there is the ridiculous rule against shared housing:

If two welfare moms with Section 8 wanted to team up and try to find an affordable house together, costing the state less in funds for rent, Section 8 will not pay for that: the two women must rent separate rental units, probably apartments instead, at higher prices, which actually pleases the landlords.

A comment to Anderberg’s (republished elsewhere) article noted that things were somewhat better on the East coast, and added,

Section 8 housing is actually to the advantage of the owner because that means he has to keep places open as section 8 housing and gets a check regardless of if someone is living in it… Any landlord who doesn’t have section 8 housing is an idiot. Most will instantly take it because if there is an empty house in your unit you can pimp the system… A lot of the funds for repairs on the units come from the section 8 money. They are instant money in the bank.

Getting back to Anderberg: She has more to say about landlords, too. And the government:

In all reality, the only reason the Section 8 program is funded and allowed to continue is that it is designed to benefit land owners, much more than the renters. Section 8 does not help renters become home owners. Section 8 will not allow Section 8 renters to pay their rent towards home ownership, as in a mortgage, they may only use Section 8 for temporary rentals, turning it in essence, into a benefits program for land owners…

There is a serious housing crisis and the chasm between the have and have-nots has never been more obvious. This band-aid program of Section 8 vouchers barely functions in reality… Section 8 vouchers are often not worth the paper they are written on… In essence, the government has made the Section 8 voucher program nearly impossible to use, while feigning the illusion of concern and remedy.

“Minimum wage is not equal to minimum rents,” Anderberg says, and, of course, that is what the Universal Living Wage is all about. All Americans who work 40 hours a week should be able to afford basic housing wherever they live. We can end economic homelessness for over a million people and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers. Learn more about the Universal Living Wage.

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Source: “Kirsten Anderberg,” Amazon.com
Source: ““Section 8”: The Myths of Low Income Housing in the U.S.,” Mostly Water, 09/19/08
Image by Sir_Iwan (Pawel), used under its Creative Commons license.