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Housing

Trump has been ‘disastrous’ for US homeless, say street papers

US street papers – which offer opportunity to homeless people – have reacted with cautious optimism as Joe Biden edges closer to the White House

US street papers have described their “fear and horror” at the thought of Donald Trump returning to the White House, following the hotly contested American presidential election.

And as the prospect of a second term dissipates, relief is spreading among the street paper community which has seen some vendors singled out for abuse through the stormy politics of 2020.  In Seattle, homeless vendors have been put at risk due to Trump’s coronavirus response and his rhetoric around race, according to staff at the city’s street paper Real Change.

“I’ve been struck by how our administration’s response, or lack of one, to Covid has been severely impacting our vendors’ lives,” said Ainsley Meyer, a vendor case manager at Real Change.

“As Covid cases rise and our administration has decided the economy is more important than human life, many vendors are forced to make the difficult decision to continue selling Real Change to support themselves, despite many being at high risk for contracting Covid or not having access to quality health care.”

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Like Big Issue vendors, the people who sell Real Change are self-employed, buying copies of the paper and selling it on to make a profit.

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They are a familiar sight on the streets of Seattle where they work, said Meyer, but she added that they have seen their city become less safe during the Trump presidency. The problem is particularly acute for black vendors.

“Trump emboldens the far right, which puts so many of our vendors at direct risk,” she explained.

“Trump’s response to the Black Lives Matter protests throughout our country and in our city directly harmed many of our vendors. I’ve noticed a lot more complaint phone calls about some of our vendors who are black, and I know this directly has to do with the culture of this country and the current rhetoric.

“We’ve had white people calling to say they feel vendors are ‘dangerous’ without being able to give any concrete explanation as to why.”

Meyer expressed concern that Joe Biden’s desire to seem tough on questions of law and order may see heavy-handed police tactics continue, adding, “When cops were pepper spraying, shooting flares, and throwing tear gas, people living outside don’t have anywhere to go.”

But she was still clear about her preferred White House resident. “My hope is that Biden wins, so we can continue fighting for much needed positive change, in a safer political climate,” she said.

“It’s a lot of playing politics, while half a million plus Americans are out on the street suffering.”

Eric Falquero, the editorial director of Washington DC’s Street Sense, agreed that Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened people to be more “overt” about their racial prejudices.

In common with all street papers, Street Sense exists to offer opportunity to people who are homeless, vulnerably housed or economically excluded.

In Washington, the homeless population is disproportionately made up of African Americans. Less than half of the overall population of Washington is black, but more than 80 per cent of the homeless population is African American.

“You can see a clear delineation of who’s been locked out of opportunity and upward mobility in society [and] this history of racist policies that needs to be dismantled,” said Falquero.

Though “successive presidents haven’t gotten to grips with” the problem of homelessness in the USA, Falquero said, there had been some progress under Obama with the first ever national strategic plan to address the issue.

“All that got thrown out when the Trump administration came in, and they’ve spent the past years undoing all of those structures and long-term work that was being put together,” he added. “It’s a lot of playing politics, while half a million plus Americans are out on the street suffering.”

Falquero said that a Biden victory was necessary – but not sufficient – for America to make progress in tackling homelessness.  

“There’s a very big gap between the sort of fear and horror of what Biden not winning could mean and him taking it,” he said, “but at the same time, I think him winning is just the starting place. It’s the same way that we say housing isn’t the end of the line. It’s the baseline.

“Whenever we get one of our vendors into housing, they get to breathe for a minute, but there’s still all these other needs. Biden winning is the baseline that we need, but it doesn’t solve anything. It’s just it allows the work to begin.”

Main image: Real Change vendor Shawn Wilson, photo courtesy of Real Change / INSP

Big Issue vendors need your help now more than ever. More than 1,000 vendors are out of work because of the second lockdown in England. They can’t sell the magazine and they can’t rely on the income they need.

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