Per Lexi Cortes of the Belleville News-Democrat, 36 people have been evicted from Granite City public housing projects in the years spanning 2014 to 2018 for violating the cities strict crime free housing ordinance. A number of these evictees saw themselves lose their homes because they called for help when either overdosing themselves or seeing someone with them overdose. One case in particular that Cortes covers, sticks out in regards to this. In 2016, a 27 year old man witnessed his girlfriend pass out during drug use and worried she had overdosed. He called an ambulance and the woman would thankfully end up ok. However, a month later the man received an eviction notice stating he had violated the cities crime free housing policy by the drug use that triggered the resulting incident. So, it was this call to 911 in particular, that caused the government to become notified of the man’s drug use. It was Opioids specifically, and like many impoverished parts of communities across the country, this has been an ongoing epidemic for the city as Cortes notes. She writes that there were a record high 109 drug related deaths in Madison County- where Granite City resides- in the year 2018. Heroin and Fentanyl in particular have devastated the area and triggered many of the evictions that Cortes is writing about. Some of the issues with these policies- beyond just the immorality of evicting tenants- is that these type of incidents foster and incentivize a culture of silence rather than outreach. If you can lose your home for calling for an ambulance, that is a significantly problematic byproduct of no crime housing policies. It is understandable that one wouldn’t want to incentivize the use of drug use in a housing project or allow said project to become a drug house, but there are many options less punitive that could be sought out. The man evicted for calling 911 wrote a poignant letter of appeal to the city government, trying to reverse the decision they made on his eviction. It was unsuccessful. He apologized for his trouble with drug use, and pleaded with the city that stripping him of his housing would significantly destabilize his already vulnerable mental health situation. He vowed he would make good on going to rehabilitation if he could be given the proper resources to best take advantage of it. The content of the letter speaks to the other options available in these situations. The city could help those who struggle with drug use by providing the resources that allow people suffering from addiction to best treat it. It could be less punitive and not have zero tolerance policies on the issue, realizing that the ongoing Opioid epidemic is a significant complicating factor in this crisis and one that can be out of an individual control.
It’s also hard not to look at this issue through a class conscious lens. These policies tend to most significantly impact those in the most vulnerable financial situations and also those communities with a high minority population- the city is facing two civil rights lawsuits regarding their enforcement of this policy- It’s not an overstatement to say that stable housing is absolutely critical for one’s physical and emotional welfare and the ability to have a decent life. It should be a human right and not a commodity on a Capitalistic market place in which exploitative and discriminatory housing policies have been the norm rather than the exception. This lack of empathy in Institutional policy is noticeable. To look at that letter from a man suffering from addiction, depression, and poverty, and basically ignore it wholesale certainly feels like it’s in keeping with the spirit of our age. Furthermore, as Cortes notes, many of the evictions also stem from property crimes such as trespassing that are at many times intertwined with drug use. This is one of the more openly capitalistic aspects of law enforcement and city government- keeping those who are property-less from accessing the private fiefs of the propertied class- It’s an emphasis on prioritizing those who usually have everything while not only ignoring but also persecuting those who have nothing. Autonomy over one’s living situation should be guaranteed, but is largely impossible when you struggle with poverty, a job that underpays you, and the always constant presence of strict law enforcement hanging over your actions like a scythe. Empathy should be the lens through which we make institutional policies, not punishment.