OPINION: What the Unhoused Have Taught Me About Our Society’s Failures

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Photo by Annabel Attridge

In my time as a photographer, I have met many people. I have talked with those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. While each of their stories stands out, I feel Lauren’s story highlights the most issues of people struggling under late capitalism.

I met Lauren on one of my trips to Denver to interview and photograph homeless people throughout my hometown. Lauren had a tent outside of the Denver Art Museum. She told me that she chose that place because she had always loved going into the museum and looking at the beautiful works of art.

Photo by Annabel Attridge

Lauren became homeless after the COVID-19 moratorium on rent had been lifted. She had lived in a sort of rent-controlled situation. However, her landlord realized that they could make more money selling the building to a developer than having disabled tenants. The landlord decided to find reasons to sell the building. The others in her building ended up homeless.

Lauren had no savings. She could not work due to medical conditions such as Polycystic kidney disease, type one diabetes, and an autoimmune disorder. All of which made a living during a pandemic hard enough without adding in no longer having a home. Lauren didn’t have health care and was on a waiting list at the time to meet with the Medicaid office to fix her application. 

During my hour and a half talking to her, I learned this and more. Before the pandemic, Lauren had been on SSI Disability and worked part-time at a small coffee shop to make up for what SSI didn’t cover. She didn’t go to the hospital to get dialysis because Denver General Hospital was already overfilled with COVID patients. Not wanting to get sick, Lauren didn’t go to a shelter because they were already overcrowded with people. Given her medical conditions, she couldn’t risk getting COVID.

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“I know that this tent is where I’m going to die,” she told me in our time together. She had resigned herself to this fact. 

Photo by Annabel Attridge

Lauren is one of many people who fell through the cracks of our social safety net. She is one of the millions of people that we have been left behind by late capitalism.  Lauren did sadly pass away in her tent outside of the museum. I sadly don’t know the details, only that she died. 

Her story is not an uncommon one. It’s estimated that a minimum of 553,742 people are homeless in the United States. At the same time, about 17 million housing units are empty in the United States. This problem will only be growing as more people struggle to pay bills during a global pandemic.

Poverty has become a crime while wealth hoarding is being valorized as moral. Until we start treating people like Lauren with dignity and human rights, the problems that people like her face will only be more hardship.

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