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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

The New Suburban Homeless

Published:  March 26, 2013
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Flickr/JefferyTurner

A new article by Monica Potts in the most recent issue of The American Prospect, The Weeklies, explores an impact of the Great Recession that has thus far received sparse attention: the rise of suburban homelessness. Across the country, as foreclosures persist, many formerly stable families are finding themselves moving from one budget hotel to the next, permanently in transition. As the article notes, the recession has jeopardized “a defining characteristic of what it means to be middle-class” for many families—and in the process, called their very identities into question.

The article profiles two families living in a Ramada Inn just outside of Denver. The "weeklies," as they call themselves, are former renters and homeowners who now share cramped hotel rooms, pay by the week, and sleep surrounded by all their belongings. Some stay for a relatively short period, while others settle in for months, with up to forty long-term guests occupying the hotel at a time. Many express anger at the banks and unscrupulous lenders that were behind the loss of their homes, as well as the government for its inadequate response. And as the statistics reveal, these families represent but a miniscule portion of those that have been victims of the foreclosure crisis; the number of homeless children in Colorado’s Jefferson County grew from 59 in 2001 to a staggering 2812 in the present school year.

As Potts describes, certain small indignities are an inevitable part of hotel living: meal choices are limited to what can be stored in a mini fridge and cooked on a hot plate, dishes are washed in the bathroom sink, and there's nowhere to host a child’s birthday party. Yet in the Ramada, deliberate management tactics make it all the more clear that the “weeklies” are tolerated but unwelcome. Their beds are made without fitted sheets, the hotel raises their rates inconsistently and without notice, and their access to free breakfast and coffee is revoked. During a Christmas celebration, a manager intentionally turns up the air conditioner in common areas until it’s too uncomfortable for residents to stay outside of their rooms. While daily routines turn the hotel into a home, mounting hostility and unpredictable policy changes reinforce the instability of these families’ circumstances.

The Weeklies is an enthralling, sobering and important read that explores an overlooked consequence of the housing crisis. Check out the full piece here, and be sure to RSVP for our April 5th event with Monica Potts, the Asset Building Program's Reid Cramer, and Janis Bowdler of the National Council of La Raza for a discussion of the article and its policy implications.

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