I didn’t sleep last night. I mean, I did, but in stolen moments as I surfed from bed to couch to tile floor, hoping to escape the stagnant air that hung right at nose level in my 900 sq ft house. Eventually, I caved to the insects and threw open every last screenless window knowing that, when day comes, I would eradicate the moths that made their way to candles’ flame.
These days have seemed endless as street by street, pockets of our community recover power, recover yards, recover roofs, recover normalcy. Elsewhere in the state, the recovery ticks by far more slowly.
We were lucky (lucky?) that this power outage has been during an unseasonably mild August. Still, the days blaze, the nights stifle, and the stress builds.
The past 11 days have been an exercise in doing without. But for many of our neighbors and the clients we serve at Shelter House, this is no exercise. Living without is simply living. Because it has happened before. And it is very likely to happen again.
Indeed, as this pandemic rages on, as derecho recovery strains resources, as unemployment benefits decrease, and as eviction moratoria expire, the probability of experiencing homelessness — for the first time, or again — looms.
The derecho didn’t cause woefully inadequate living conditions or homelessness in much the same way that COVID-19 did not create a crisis in the American health care system. They destroyed lives and ended lives and ripped apart homes and exposed the nasty reality of life in these United States, and right here in Eastern Iowa.
These things aren’t new.
Crises almost inevitably affect people who lack resources first and most. Not because they are pointedly cruel, sentient things, but because a problem escalates to a crisis proportionally to one’s ability to navigate around it with easily accessible resources. It is unsurprising, then, that individuals and families experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable people after a disaster. As this year marches on, stacking crisis on crisis on necessary social movement on crisis on goodness knows what’s next, the already-existing divide between rich and poor, have and have not is widening.
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The need isn’t new, though it certainly is screaming. And we, as a community, are answering it. Can we answer it again and still as (if) things stabilize? Can our crisis response become our modus operandus? There will be something that asks for our collective attention next. Whether scandal or trauma or crisis or a brief, shining moment of respite.
Don’t look away.
Christine Ralston is the Development Director for Iowa City’s Shelter House.