It’s a rough cycle: To stay safe from COVID, we were told to avoid unnecessary excursions, limiting our exposure to strangers. But as unemployment rates skyrocketed throughout the pandemic, many people struggled to pay rent and the unhoused population grew. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new, temporary federal eviction moratorium after the previous one had expired, albeit with more caveats. The moratorium was meant to, as the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness states, “respond to recent, unexpected developments in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the rise of the Delta variant.” Soon after, however, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s new ban. According to one estimate, the court’s decision could cause 3.5 million families to lose their homes, with families of color and low-income people most at risk. This measure could also have devastating impacts for students.
“I was slightly comforted by the fact that I couldn't be evicted until October, [when the extension was set to expire], but now I don't have that same guarantee,” Sy Ali, a student at American Public University, tells Teen Vogue. “I am at risk of being houseless. I can't fully focus on classes because I'm worried that I won't have a place to complete assignments or access to Wi-Fi at some point.”
Nikki Del Casale, a campaign co-coordinator for the Cancel Rent Coalition, is concerned that the rise in evictions will affect college students and K-12 students too. “I’m worried that the end of the eviction ban will put many students in precarious positions, including the potential to lose housing, drop out of school, and become unhoused,” Del Casale tells Teen Vogue via email. “I am terrified that this will most affect many young people who may already be at a disadvantage, such as LGBTQIA youth, youth escaping from some type of trauma, and youth whose outlet or safe space is school. If you lose housing, you... can lose education.”
Unhoused students across the United States were already in crisis before the pandemic began. According to 2020 research from the National Education Association that came out just before the pandemic, there were approximately 1.5 million students nationwide who, at some point over the previous three years, experienced a lack of a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” including those sharing accommodations, staying at hotels, or sleeping in any public space. From just the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year, the number of unhoused students in the U.S. jumped by 15%, and that figure is still on the rise, according to the report.
Research also shows that students experiencing homelessness are more likely to face academic difficulties and have higher rates of emotional, behavioral, and immediate and long-term health concerns. But this year, the stakes are even higher: As some students learn remotely or take blended classes during COVID, some homes are still doubling as classrooms. An eviction could mean not only losing a home, but losing reliable Wi-Fi and a space to learn.
“In these pandemic times, having a laptop or virtual device is basically a necessity, and programs in cities do not always have the budget to supply children with these devices,” says Del Casale. “If families are evicted, they may also not have access to reliable internet, further destabilizing their education.”
Katrina, a Cornell University student and community organizer in Ithaca, New York, says that the threat of eviction will “fall disproportionately on low-income students and students of color who are far more likely to be paying their own rents.” Last winter, she and her roommate were forced to take classes from freezing bedrooms in their Ithaca home when the heat was broken. Katrina says the experience helped her understand how “landlord practices and housing precarity come in direct conflict with student tenants’ ability to learn, especially when courses are online.”
The possibility of eviction has made some students rethink their plans for school. “When I was a kid, people would always tell me that poor children don’t go to college, but now that I’m older, I do want to go,” says Quentin, a recent high school graduate from Washington, DC, who prefers not to use his last name. “But there’s a lot to consider. Student debt is already so high, and now it’s looking like things like housing and internet aren’t even guarantees. Lately I’ve been thinking of staying closer to home and going to community college instead.”
Quentin had tried to find a part-time job during his senior year of high school to support his family, but to no avail. “I’ve already asked a couple of my friends if we could stay with them if we get evicted,” Quentin says. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Lark Yasmin, a tenants' rights activist in Washington, DC, says that looming evictions worry her as both an organizer and a mom. “Mothers have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic,” she tells Teen Vogue. “I’m scared to send my kids to school because of the Delta variant, and I'm scared to have them home because we could be evicted. This is a systemic class and race issue. It’s so unfair that these evictions will help my landlord, and help his children, whereas my child might be homeless.”
Del Casale sees a link between evictions and other systemic race issues such as gentrification and the debt crisis, and believes that all of these issues must be tackled to ensure that students and their families have fair housing and safe access to education. “Many Black and brown Washingtonians have been unable to pay rent and are facing eviction, huge amounts of debt, or both when the moratorium is lifted,” says Del Casale. “When families have more debt, they may not be able to provide food for their children, nor financial assistance for education. These issues are linked, and we have to tackle all of them to ensure that all students have fair access to education and a safe home.”
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue