Matthew Desmond's "Eviction" Focuses on Milwaukee Eviction, Children are Caught in the Chaos

Children in Heavenly Hands
Author and Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond casts a spotlight on the disastrous effects of eviction in his new book appropriately entitled "Eviction." The book focuses on Milwaukee families faced with eviction and the domino effect it has on their lives. In doing research for "Eviction," Desmond moved into first a trailer park and later a rooming house on Milwaukee's North Side, a neighborhood where poverty is the norm. Here, Desmond chronicled the lives of families who pay 70 to 80 percent of their income on rent for dwellings for often decrepit and dangerous. A review of "Eviction" in the New York Times illustrates how Desmond highlights how children are used in instances of eviction and the ways in which it affects their quality of life:

"One of the worst choices anyone can make is to have children, or even glancing human attachments of any kind. Landlords hate kids for being noisy, for trying to flush toys down the toilet, or — at their most devilish — testing positive for lead poisoning, which can bring down the authorities. Children and other family members are also risk factors for eviction, and not just because they are more mouths to feed. If an address generates, say, three 911 calls a month, the landlord will be issued a 'nuisance citation,' and the family will probably be evicted. Too bad if the 911 calls were occasioned by domestic violence or, in one case Desmond recounts, a child’s asthma attack. As one landlord’s son put it, 'We can’t have police coming up in here.'"

"Children are scarred in the process. They are pulled from one school to another; they periodically lose whatever tiny cache of possessions they may have accumulated. Grown-ups have trouble keeping their jobs, and the lack of an address may compromise their ability to gain, or hold on to, whatever benefits they are eligible for. Of all the evictees depicted in this book, only one — Scott, the former nurse — eventually regains a job and an apartment. When she loses her apartment, Crystal, an ebullient — or perhaps just manic-depressive — young evangelical Christian, turns to prostitution. Arlene, the mother of two, is last seen making her 89th call to find a new home. Like incarceration, eviction can brand a person for life, making her an undesirable tenant and condemning her to ever more filthy, decrepit housing."

Matthew Desmond is the creator of the Milwaukee Area Renters Study, which "examined court records, and conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork to construct a vivid picture of the remarkably high rates of eviction and the ways in which it disrupts the lives of low-income African Americans, in particular." Desmond is the recipient of a fellowship with the MacArthur Foundation.