Over the past year, the story of evictions during COVID has often risen above the muck. It’s made headlines in major newspapers and TIME magazine, and received serious attention from the government, with stop-gap eviction moratoriums put in effect and renewed several times, and likely due to be renewed again. Stopping evictions is not enough. “For many landlords,” notes the United Way, “the order created a financial burden of housing renters with no payments,” and without income, they have no way to pay. But these measures have kept many thousands of vulnerable adults and children from experiencing homelessness.
And yet moratoriums aside, the number of people losing their homes is on the rise during the pandemic, with a disproportionate impact on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, and shelters have been forced to close or lower capacity. Framing increasing homelessnes solely as a crisis driven by the virus misses the fact that it has been growing since 2016, though it is down from pre-2007 levels. “Even before the current health/economic crisis,” notes a Homelessness Research Institute report, “the older adult homeless population was projected to trend upwards until 2030.”
Indeed, homelessness has seemed like a sad, inevitable fact of American life for decades. Rather than accept the situation, organizations like Invisible People have worked to end it. “The first step to solving homelessness,” they write, “is acknowledging that its victims are people. Regular people. Fathers. Mothers. Veterans. Whole families. Folks who fell on hard times and lost their core foundation of being human — their homes.” No one asks to be in the situation, and the longer a person goes unhoused, the harder it is for them to rebuild their lives.
Invisible People offers action steps and publishes well-researched journalism on the problems, and solutions, for the millions of people experiencing homelessness at any given time. But as their name suggests, their primary aim is to make the lives of unhoused people visible to those of us who tend to walk right by them in our haste. We can feel overwhelmed by the intractable scale of the problem, which tends to turn individuals into statistics. Invisible People asks us to “change the story,” and to start by approaching homelessness one person, or one family, at a time.
Invisible People was founded in Los Angeles by Mark Horvath, a former TV executive who became homeless after drug and alcohol addiction in 1995. After recovering, he lost his home again during the 2008 Recession. Horvath began interviewing people he met on the streets of L.A. and posting the videos to YouTube and Twitter. Soon, the project became a global one, incorporated as a non-profit, and Horvath has traveled across the U.S. and to Canada, Peru, and the UK to interview people living without homes.
The project, says Horvath is designed to foster “a conversation about solutions to end homelessness [that] gives homeless people a chance to tell their own story.” Those stories are moving, human, unforgettable, and usually not at all what you might expect. You can see some of them here, and many more at the Invisible People YouTube channel. Connect with the organization and find out what you can do here.