When Mutual Aid Goes Federal: How HUD is Working to Bolster Community Efforts, and What it Says About the Trump Administration
The Find Shelter tool, introduced in a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) press release on Thursday, January 14, is a new HUD resource designed to connect community members in need with sources of local assistance. The tool provides online mapping and contact information for resources such as shelters, food pantries, and health clinics, as well as printable posters and palm cards with resource information for display in libraries and other public spaces.
The creation of this tool, an action which serves as something of a parting gift from Trump’s HUD in the final days of the administration, is in sync with Secretary Ben Carson’s tendency throughout the pandemic to celebrate inspiring, though small-scale, community-based efforts rather than respond readily to nationwide need for strong, large-scale federal aid in this time of economic crisis. This sentiment is marked by HUD’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors database, which provides lists of various stories of individuals and groups across the country engaging in acts of community service to help their neighbors overcome hardship throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.hud.gov/coronavirus/neighbors). The page showcases stories such as Leo Hunsaker’s, a formerly unhoused individual in Idaho who formed an organization to collect care packages for unhoused community members currently sheltering in motels; or the Evangel Church in New Jersey, who worked with the non-profit Convoy of Hope to deliver supplies to struggling families that have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus.
Of course, in response to heightened need, efforts to provide community-based aid to low-income families and individuals have seen a nationwide surge during the past year. The term “mutual aid” has grown considerably in popularity, serving less as a descriptor for more traditional forms of local aid, such as group shelters and food banks, and to a greater degree acting as a descriptor for modern, creative forms of aid such as community fridges, supply basket drives, and even direct requests for monetary assistance on social media. In fact, as I write this, I can open my Instagram feed and see, within five or so minutes of scrolling through my friends’ stories, shared requests for aid for Alicia, a black trans woman in need of monetary assistance to secure housing (gofund.me/5fa60d4b); for Ona, an unhoused New Orleans-based organizer in need of money for legal defense fees (gofund.me/05e84121); and for Lyerie, a single mother of two children in need of funds to pay her rent (Venmo bglyeriee). Often, these mutual aid efforts are organized and carried out by community members also struggling to keep themselves housed and fed, but still willing and eager to help others in need.
The rise of mutual aid, along with HUD’s introduction of the Find Shelter tool, leads us to an important question: when mutual aid goes federal, is it simply a response to the times? Or is it a cheap cop-out? There is no doubt that the Find Shelter tool will help community members locate and gain access to local organizations and individuals fighting hard to provide resources, however underfunded these organizations and efforts are. However, it is hard to ignore that the introduction of the tool serves as something of an acknowledgement from the Trump-Carson HUD that their own work has been insufficient in addressing the need bred from the COVID-19 pandemic; that federal aid from HUD and other departments has been scarce enough to create consistent need for patchworked, DIY community efforts that are often insufficient in addressing the large-scale need we are seeing today (however hard community members are working). It almost feels like the Trump-Carson HUD is leaving us with a clear reminder that their belief is that, in this time of need, communities should be expected to save themselves, even when the issues that communities need saving from have been created and exacerbated by the ignorance and neglect of the federal government.
Today January 20, 2021, is Inauguration Day, marking the beginning of the Biden administration. With him he brings a fleet of prospective new cabinet nominees, including Marcia Fudge, his pick for HUD Secretary (currently a democratic representative from Ohio). Fudge will take over a department fragmented not only by four years of indifference but by an inability to handle with any degree of grace a national crisis that left the state of American low-income housing in tatters. She will be faced with an overflowing, but overdue and completely necessary, basket of demands for protections for low income renters and the unhoused, including requests as simple as an extended and enhanced eviction moratorium, and as unique and ambitious as funding for new supportive housing acquisition. It is unclear exactly what Biden’s HUD will look like in the coming years, but what is clear is that relief from this pressing national crisis will only result from careful, deliberate work to pick up the pieces of the broken department left behind by former secretary Ben Carson; followed by bold action to rebuild with the infrastructure necessary to climb out of this dark period with renewed strength and resolve to be greater than when we entered it.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD Public Affairs. (2021, January 14). HUD Secretary Ben Carson Introduces Find Shelter Tool to Help Community Members Locate Service Providers and Local Resources [Press release].
The Department of Housing and Urban Development. Neighbors Helping Neighbors. https://www.hud.gov/coronavirus/neighbors