Housing is human right: Without it, sense of security and mental health are undermined

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Providence House Shelter in New Rochelle.

No one, from children to the elderly, should wake up wondering if they have a place to sleep that night. Housing directly impacts our sense of security, and the human right to live in safety should be guaranteed for all, regardless of race or social status. While I have grown up without these worries, that doesn’t mean that I have been shielded from these all-too-common horrors. I have volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and given away my spare change, though always feeling like I’m barely making a difference in the overwhelmingly upsetting issue of thousands living in unstable housing. The County of Westchester is one of the wealthiest communities in the country, yet there are almost two thousand homeless individuals, and tens of thousands of residents living in unstable housing there. This is unacceptable, especially considering the resources that Westchester possesses and could utilize.

Housing instability is far more than being homeless; it is having to move frequently, spend more than 50% of income on housing or live in overcrowded conditions. Those who live in unstable houses are much more likely to face food insecurity and unemployment, and living in unsafe homes can impact everything from our mental health to our physical health. Our well-being depends on living in homes that are hazard free, have clean running water and adequate ventilation. Also, unstable housing can negatively impact our mental health because constantly fighting to find another place to live is extremely stressful, especially for families. For parents, it is very distressing to struggle so much while having to take care of others at the same time and worry about whether they will be perceived as a bad parent. For children, it is hard to watch their parents go through so much while they are unable to help and feel like they are only a burden. Homes are so much more than a place to sleep; they are a safe haven where memories are made. Never being able to truly relax in your own home because there is always the underlying possibility of having to move or being evicted is not an experience any child or person should endure.

Also, the pandemic is making safe and affordable housing increasingly difficult to find, as hundreds of thousands have been laid off and rent continues to go up. Recent data from the census has shown that millions are having trouble paying rent, and the number of people that have fallen behind on their rent has increased approximately 250%. These numbers are very disturbing, especially considering the dual stress of worrying about the pandemic and paying rent that those people have to experience.

The pandemic is making safe and affordable housing increasingly difficult to find, as hundreds of thousands have been laid off and rent continues to go up.”

There are homeless shelters in Westchester, which are a great resource, but those quickly become crowded and are still not really stable housing. Lifting Up Westchester does a great job of locating safe, affordable places to stay, but the increasing demand because of the pandemic must be very hard to keep up with. Some measures that Westchester can take to ensure that safe housing is accessible to everyone are creating a “Habitat for Humanity”-type program and raising awareness. While Habitat for Humanity mainly focuses on repairing houses that are damaged due to natural disasters, this program could instead help build free housing for those in need. Most importantly, it should partner with local high schools, as in my experience, students are always looking for the opportunities to gain more community service hours, and that is something that could be capitalized on. However, creating a program like this is a massive undertaking and will most certainly need funding and donations. Raising awareness about this issue is a very important part of ensuring that everyone has access to safe housing. To be honest, I had no idea that this problem really existed in Westchester before I started doing research and writing this essay. It is very clearly abundant in New York City, where I used to live, but for the upper/upper middle-class, Westchester is like a small bubble, hiding us away from these very real problems. Now that I have realized this, I will definitely donate to programs such as Lifting Up Westchester, and I believe that if others were more informed of this issue, they would also want to donate.

Housing is an integral part of our life that has a direct impact on our personal development. Living in safe, stable housing helps us to develop a sense of security or feeling of confidence and freedom. It is important for everyone to develop this, but especially children, as those who throughout their childhood have a feeling of security and safety are likely to become independent and emotionally healthy as they grow. The ability to live securely in safe housing has, unfortunately, become more of a privilege than a right, but it is still something that I will never take for granted going forward.

Pelham Middle School eighth grader Eloise McGibbon received honorable mention for this essay in Lifting Up Westchester’s annual writing contest.