Part Two: Out
Order Some Carryout
Larraine tries to ignore her impending eviction. She has been living in her white trailer for around a year and finally has everything the way she likes it. However, rent takes up 77% of her monthly income.
In Milwaukee, two main programs fight homelessness:
- Emergency Assistance is for families with dependent children who are in possession of an eviction notice, live 115% below the poverty line, are American citizens, and can prove that they are experiencing a sudden loss of income.
- The Homelessness Prevention Program is mostly federally funded and available through Community Advocates. Tenants must demonstrate a loss of income and prove that their current income can cover future rent.
Furthermore, tenants must have a buy-in from their landlords. Community Advocates approves only 950 families every year, while that many families can be evicted in Milwaukee in less than six weeks. Neither program helps tenants who regularly struggle to pay rent month-to-month.
Larraine calls every public assistance organization that she can think of, including the YMCA and the Social Development Commission. She also calls the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, or the “welfare building,” and waits on hold. No services can offer her help.
Meanwhile, the employees of Eagle Moving and Storage begin their work early.
- The company was established in 1958 and taken over by the founder’s sons: Dave, Tom, and Jim Brittain. When Eagle Moving and Storage first opened, there were only one or two evictions every week. Now, evictions account for 40% of business.
- Eagle partners with two sheriff deputies when carrying out eviction moves. The deputies announce the eviction, and then the movers empty out the unit. Landlords can only engage the Sheriff’s Office after contracted a bonded moving company like Eagle’s, which is the largest in Milwaukee. The moving company will then generate a Letter of Authority, which is given to the Sheriff’s Office by the landlord along with additional court documents. The cost of an official eviction with sheriffs and movers is covered by the landlord. Fees can total around $600 and landlords rarely recoup their losses.
Tim, an older employee, drives the truck while Dave Brittain rides in the passenger seat. They usually move south, beginning in the mostly black North Side and ending with the mostly white South Side. Their first eviction is at a complex on Silver Spring Drive. One of the deputies, John, knocks on the door of an orderly and well-kept unit, prompting him to double-check whether they are at the correct address. John receives confirmation that they are at the correct residence and the movers proceed.
All of the rooms are quickly cleared and they move on to the next house. No one is home. Nearly half of the time, tenants are not present for evictions. Those who are tend to be shocked and unprepared to leave. Dave Brittain suspects that they are in denial about their impending eviction, and psychologists have found that people living in poverty struggle to look beyond the present.
The movers enter the house, but soon the tenants arrive and insist that they paid rent that month. Sheriff John explains to his partner that the landlord took the rent but did not pay the mortgage. When this happens, he will sometimes put off an eviction in order to give tenants more time to leave, but this is a “drug house.’” John proceeds, but does not ask about the shoebox that one of the tenants hastily locks in the truck of their car.
Larraine continues searching for a way to pay Tobin. She has...
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always lived in poverty, though she remembers her childhood fondly. Her family lived in a public housing complex in South Milwaukee. Her mother had a disability and was unable to work and her father was a window-washer. Larraine had difficulties in school and dropped out in the tenth grade to enter the workforce. While she was working as a machinist for R-W Enterprises, a metal disk cut off the top half of her middle fingers.
At twenty-two, Larraine married Jerry Lee, who discouraged her from working and getting her driver’s license. They had two daughters, but after eight years they divorced. Larraine loved the freedom of being a single mother. She cleaned houses during the day and danced on tables at night. In 1986, she fell into a “consuming, brutal kind of love” with a man named Glen. He was on parole after robbing a pharmacy. He died of an overdose in prison 16 years later, and Larraine remembers that she “‘died right then and there’” with him. She has been struggling to get her life together ever since.
The Eagle movers evict a group of children, the oldest of which is approximately seventeen, on the North Side. Their mother died two months previously and they continued living in their family’s duplex. Tim recognizes one of them as the daughter of a former crew member. It is not unusual for the Eagle movers to evict people they know, especially on the North Side. No one asks about what will happen to the children. In their line of work, they see many upsetting things. The prior week, a man shot himself in the head after Sheriff John announced his eviction. However, the sights and smells of squalor are worse than anything else that the movers have seen.
Larraine considers asking her family for help. However, only her younger brother Ruben is in a position to help. Unlike her sisters, Odessa and Susan, and brother, Beaker, Ruben managed to escape poverty and works for PPG Industries. However, Larraine, like many people living in poverty, wants to avoid approaching a wealthier family member. If she annoys him with frequent requests, he may never help her again. She asks her younger daughter, Jayme, for money. Jayme can sign over her paycheck, but not in time for Larraine to avoid eviction.
Finally, Ruben agrees to help Larraine with the $150, but Tobin will not take it. They walk to her trailer, stunned. A few hours later, the Eagle moving trucks arrive and her belongings are hauled away to the Eagle mover’s warehouse for storage. Ruben packs up her television and computer and leaves.
Larraine never told her landlord how she planned to catch up, nor did she ask for more time. Men are more likely to confront their landlords and make arrangements to work off their rent. Women almost never make similar arrangements, either because they are already overworked or because it never occurs to them to make such an offer. When women do negotiate with their landlords, they sometimes offer sex in exchange for rent.
The moving trucks leave. Larraine must find a way to pay her storage bill, which costs $25 per pallet, per month. If she falls ninety days behind, Eagle will discard her belongings. Meanwhile, she ignores the eviction notice on her front door and breaks back into her trailer. She finds small things that the movers left and moves them into Beaker’s trailer. She takes pain pills and sits alone in his living room, gazing over the filth and clutter around her. She emits a stifled scream and hits the couch over and over.