by Matthew Desmond

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Who is Arleen in Evicted?

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Arleen is one of the many tragic individuals in the real-life tale Evicted. Impoverished and living with her children, she is evicted from her apartment and needs to find new housing immediately. She spends nearly her entire welfare check on rent every month and is trying desperately to maintain her welfare case since she has no other income.

After being denied by literally dozens of landlords, she is finally offered a place to stay at the 90th. She moves in, grateful, but her stay is cut short. After her son gets into a physical altercation with a teacher at school, they are asked to leave, again leaving them in a nomadic situation.

She moves in with Trisha and her boyfriend, another low-income family. They squeeze everyone into their apartment for a month and a half until Trisha and her boyfriend leave. Arleen is left homeless again and must move in with her sister.

Because of the constant upheaval in their life, Arleen loses the majority of their possessions, as she is unable to afford storage during their numerous transitions. After becoming further indebted to her landlord, Sherrena, she loses her welfare case after missing multiple appointments and is left destitute and unable to pay back her debts.

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Evicted is an ethnographic study of tenants in the low-income housing areas of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, narrates the story of eight families clinging to the edge of low-wage employment.

Arleen Belle is a black, single mother who falls behind on rent. Her landlady, Sherrena Tarver, moves to evict her and her boys, a few days before Christmas. Arleen is left into the coldest Milwaukee winter on record to find her family a new home. In a short period, she rents several squalid apartments, faces evictions, crashes with friends, and is forced to live in shelters.

Through Arlene's story, Desmond provides a ground-level view of evictions, one of the most urgent issues facing America today. Evictions trap America’s poor into a cycle of poverty, ill-health, and instability. Single mothers, like Arleen, are the worst sufferers. They bear the cost of running the house and the responsibility of raising children. They are paid less than men for the same amount of work, and they are often unable to make deals with landlords.

Arleen's story transforms our understanding of the centrality of home and determination in the face of hardships.

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Arleen Belle is an African-American woman living on the poverty line and attempting to look after her two sons: five-year-old Jafaris, who struggles with severe asthma, and his older brother Jori.

She moves between a large number of apartments and shelters throughout her life in an effort to keep a roof over her family's heads despite her lack of money. Her welfare check barely covers the cost of the family's rent and utilities bill.

Arleen, who had been renting from a woman named Sherrenna, soon ends up in eviction court yet again. After this, she successfully gets a sublet from Crystal, who is Sherrena's new tenant.

The relationship between Crystal and Arleen quickly turns sour. Arleen (who sometimes gives false names like "Arleen Beal" and "Erleen Belle" to landlords) ultimately loses custody of her children due to her inability to provide a suitable home.

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Arleen is just one of many real-life people in Evicted who struggles to keep a roof over their heads. At the start of the book, Arleen is evicted with her two sons from their apartment, after someone broke down the door. Arleen and the kids move from place to place, each rathole as uninhabitable as the last. Although the only apartments she can find are always in such appalling condition, Arleen still needs to spend something like 88% of her welfare check on rent, a problem common to many tenants in the book.

Arleen's already desperate plight is made worse by her own chronic depression as well as her son's disabilities, for which he requires treatment. To make matters worse, Arleen's sister passes away, and she needs to borrow some money from her landlord Sherrena to pay for the funeral. Sherrena expects Arleen to be able to pay her back from money received from the state or from her extended family. Such money isn't forthcoming, and in fact Arleen has her public assistance cut after missing an appointment.

After being evicted, Arleen has three days to find a new place in freezing cold weather. She and her family are forced to move around from place to place, and her son Jori ends up going to five different schools between the 7th and 8th grades. The 90th landlord that Arleen contacts is finally able to offer her a place. But after her son Jori kicks a teacher, Arleen and her family are forced to move out and stay with Trisha, her boyfriend, and his family. After a month and a half of this arrangement, Trisha and the other adults disappear, leading Arleen and her family to go stay with her sister. Arleen is cannot afford to keep her possessions in storage, so she loses them. And as she misses three appointments, her welfare case is closed, leaving her completely destitute.

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