open with a quote I took from a sixth grade science lesson
plan on �Human Needs�. �Human beings have certain
basic needs. We must have food, water, air, and shelter
to survive. If any one of these basic needs is not met,
then humans cannot survive.�(1)
You see, shelter is a must have for all people. It
is a matter of life or death. Housing cannot only be granted
to privileged people with wealth and resources. Every
human being needs a roof over his or her head, especially
those who are most vulnerable in our society: the poor and
the sick, who many times tend to also be people who served
time in jail or prison.
No amount of studying poverty and social inequality could
have prepared me for my new job as a Housing Advocate for
formerly incarcerated women in Watts, California. My
doctorate degree from UCLA is practically meaningless in
my quest to find decent housing for women who are demonized
and despised by society and consequently discriminated against
everywhere they turn.
In the short time I have been doing this work, I have learned
some of the unimaginable and profound suffering people endure
when born into poverty. Learning the stories of the
women I serve has been heartbreaking. These women
had hard lives well before entering jail and prison, and
continue to endure an unforgiving reality after being released.
It pained me to learn that many of our women served
long and harsh sentences for drug related offenses. It
is well documented that people of all races everywhere equally
engage in drug use and sales, and yet, those convicted are
overwhelming black and poor. (2) But regardless of the offense,
I find it disturbing to think about all the time that these
women, all of whom had serious unmet needs, were kept in
captivity behind metal bars instead of receiving treatment
also learned that nationwide, Public Housing Authorities
willfully elect to routinely exclude people with criminal
backgrounds from obtaining affordable housing - taking away
the one and only available option desperately needed by
those trapped in poverty. This legal form of discrimination
leaves many formerly incarcerated people no other choice
but homelessness. (3)
It is also clear that many formerly incarcerated people
and other marginalized communities are not receiving a livable
wage for the hard work they do- day in and day out. This
too leaves people unable to afford rent, even places considered
�cheaper apartments�. And for formerly incarcerated
people who are denied employment opportunities on the basis
of their background or do not have the physical or mental
capacity to work- they are also left with zero possibility
of obtaining housing.
Do not get me wrong- there are agencies that work to provide
underserved people with housing. Unfortunately the
need far exceeds the services that are available. I
took a client to one such agency and was told that the waiting
list was closed. �How long until the waiting list
will open again?� I asked. The answer- �hopefully
in five years�. But what will happen to my client
and millions of other people like her who need housing today?
This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real,
desperate and urgent question.
With housing being a basic human need, essential for survival
� society cannot continue to slam the door shut on peoples�
basic need for decent shelter. This practice is nothing
short of inhumane.
The good news is you can and should do something about this.
You have the power to work with us to ensure that
all people have a right to decent housing. You can
bring awareness to this dire need and promote policies and
practices that work to address all basic human needs. And
so we thank you in advance for your recognition and help,
and we eagerly await to see the results of your hard work
to ensure that everybody has a place to call home.
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator Dr. Mei-Ling Malone, PhD is a Housing Advocate
New Way of Life Reentry Project, a non profit located
in South Central Los Angeles that provides direct services
to women coming out of jails and prisons. Click here
to contact Dr. Malone.