Just this week, I heard that the divorce rate has skyrocketed because of the pandemic. Aside from that, domestic violence against women has also been exacerbated. It’s a dangerous position for women, unable to escape the abuse at home. Even if they could leave, where would they be supposed to go? Many think the logical thing is to go to a shelter, to stay with family or a friend. But that’s not viable for many. Right now, finding a safe place like a shelter is a big if, since if there is one in your area, it’s likely already full. Then there are the authorities, whose hands are tied. Some really want to help, but their voices are drowned out by the few who go out of their way to verbally abuse and harass the most vulnerable. How many women have been told there are even less options now than even a few years ago? Added to that, believe it or not, is that we’re still battling archaic stereotypes against women in the courts.
Can you imagine having to face a decision like that, to leave home during a pandemic, when you’re trying to keep your kids safe? Are they safest on the streets, in a shelter, or at home with the abuser? You’d think the answer would be simple, but the pandemic has created many obstacles. Being in a vulnerable position often means you clash with restrictions the average person with a roof over her head doesn’t have to think about. Seriously, take a closer look right now at the ever-changing restrictions everywhere. If you were to suddenly find yourself in a vulnerable, dangerous situation, what would you be supposed to do?
You would think the authorities would have some plan for this, but you may be surprised to find that not only is there no support or plan in your area, but the powers that be are doing less and less for the most vulnerable. If you look at the homeless situation, the tent cities that are a growing problem, you’ll see there’s no housing for these people. If you’re currently in some type of restrictive lockdown or are under social distancing regulations in your area, then you aren’t allowed to associate with anyone outside your home, your bubble, without risking fines, tickets, or a neighbor reporting you because you’re not following the rules. Amid all that, mothers in trouble are left with fewer and fewer options. You may have a home to go to, but those in trouble may suddenly find themselves pushing shopping carts holding the only belongings they have left, having to contend with a reality you and I don’t.
When I was told you can’t even get an appointment with a divorce lawyer right now, it didn’t surprise me. No less surprising is the news that homeless encampments are clashing with local authorities. Something similar happened in The Return of the O’Connells, when the police were directed by city council to clear out the homeless encampment and the people living there:
“Emergency meeting was called late last night. Apparently, some residents in the area complained about the campers not packing up and leaving in the morning. There’ve been a number of complaints of crime, drugs, garbage being scattered, a couple sheds being broken into, and public urination—because there are no bathrooms, so where the hell else are they supposed to go? A few of the residents have complained that they don’t want their parks used as toilets, and we’ve been ordered by the council to enforce the new bylaw. They can’t camp or stay here at all. Everyone who doesn’t pack up and leave, we’re to arrest them. Oh, and they added that the developer needs to have his equipment in here to start digging, because they’re putting in a new condo development, only I don’t think the residents in the area know that part.”
Marcus stopped walking as he reached into his pocket, pulled out his gloves, and pulled them on, taking in what he thought were maybe twenty tents. All he could do as he took in the sight was think of his Eva and her mother, Reine, because they’d been there, living just like this. It still lingered in the back of his mind, how dire it had been for them.
“I really fucking hate this job sometimes,” he said. “So the neighbors complained, but we’re really doing this for the developer. So where are we supposed to move them to?”
Harold was walking beside him. It was too damn cold for them to be out here, anyway, he thought, as he took in the houses across the street. Seeing smoke from some of the chimneys, he couldn’t help thinking of the warm, comfortable beds everyone in those houses had.
“I already called the homeless warming shelter here, but they’re out of beds, and people have to be out during the day,” Harold said. “I’ve put a call in to two of the churches, as well, to see if they can do something. Council gave no solutions about what to do with them, just told us to kick them out.”
You may also remember the young family among the homeless living in the park:
“Hey, there,” Marcus said. “You folks have a place to go?”
The man tossed a glance over his shoulder, then said to a boy, maybe ten or twelve, “John, finish rolling the tent.” Then he turned to Marcus. “No, Sheriff. We were in Bozeman before but were told to move on, so we found this place. I have my wife and two boys. We’re on foot now. My pickup was impounded in Missoula along with the tools I stored in the back. I used to work in construction until I was laid off, and I couldn’t afford to pay the fine. Was hoping to find some work, but the shelters are full, and now we have to move again. No idea where. Any ideas where I can get something for my kids, my wife? They’re cold.”
The reality is that without a solution or a place for vulnerable people to go, the authorities are just moving the problem to another area. Once you hit the streets, there is no safety net. In many areas, funding for services has likely been directed someplace else. I received a few emails asking what happened to the family living in that encampment, the husband and wife and their two children, who were forced out with no place to go, along with everyone else. The happy ending would be that they found a place to live, a roof over their heads, a warm house with a warm bed, food on the table, and a job to go to so they could pay the bills and rent.
You’d think that would be a simple feat, but not without a community plan from the powers that be. Some type of housing solution should be a primary focus in a country as wealthy as ours, and it would be easy enough to create. The hard part is getting anyone to agree to put the issue front and center, even though the housing crisis is only getting worse. Think about this: When it’s cold outside and we’re in our homes, warm and cozy, we can turn on the heat, we can light the fireplace, but there are many on the streets who are trying to stay warm through the night.
It’s not a happy situation, and unfortunately, instead of actually fixing a problem they created to begin with, the local government guys leave finding a solution to any groups of caring people who have the financial means to come up with one. For the fictional Terrence and his family from The Return of the O’Connells, there will be a FREE short story this Friday about what happened after they were cleared out of the Livingston encampment.