There were new additions to classrooms when schools opened this fall. There were plastic shields and cloth facemasks, hand sanitizer and login instructions when learning went online. But something was missing — tens of thousands of students.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed kids out of school for various reasons: health concerns, a parent losing a job causing the family to move, a lack of internet or devices for virtual learning. Because there is no national database,from 78 of the largest school districts in the country and found nearly a quarter of a million students did not showed up when school began.
Now, social workers who have spent the last three months searching for those kids expect their job is about to get much harder. A national pause on most evictions is set to expire at the end of the year, and without those protections, children without a home could translate to more students missing from the classroom.
"While we've had an increase in homelessness, it's going to get much, much worse," said Laura Tucker, a social worker for Florida's Hillsborough County School District. "Because people are going to become homeless that never intended to become homeless, never thought it would happen in their lifetime."
THE NATIONAL EVICTION MORATORIUM
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in September issued a national eviction moratorium that temporarily stops landlords from evicting tenants who have lost income because of the pandemic and have fallen behind on rent. It is set to expire next month, on December 31.
Congress had previously included a limited ban on evictions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That measure, which expired in July, only paused evictions in federally subsidized housing. The CDC's order protects everyone living in one of the nation's approximate 44 million rental households.
The CDC's moratorium draws on the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which grants the Department of Health and Human Services authority to respond to public health emergencies. The order is meant, in part, to prevent homelessness, which can increase the spread of COVID-19.
The extent to which evictions can increase infections is evident in a new study set to be published next week, which 60 Minutes previewed. The study, led by Dr. Kathryn Leifheit from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, found that evictions led to a total of 433,700 excess COVID-19 cases and 10,700 additional deaths in the U.S. from the beginning of the pandemic until the CDC's national order in September.
The national ban, however, does not stop landlords from evicting all residents. Among other requirements, tenants must sign a form that states they have lost income due to the pandemic and have made their best effort to apply for federal housing aid.
The order also does not prohibit late fees or absolve tenants of any back rent they owe, and it does not establish any kind of financial assistance fund to help renters get caught up. Because of this, housing advocates worry about an eviction crisis if the ban expires and Congress does not pass another stimulus package that includes rental relief.
According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which analyzed current Census Bureau data, 17 percent of American renters are behind on payments. Because the federal moratorium currently halts most evictions for nonpayment of rent, upwards of 18 million people in America are currently at risk of being evicted when it expires at the end of the year, the group says. That does not include people who may lose additional income as coronavirus prevention measures shutter more businesses in the winter months to come.
While housing insecurity has been a growing concern for years, the pandemic has heightened it. Three quarters of the people who are behind on rent say they cannot make payments because they have experienced an employment-related loss of income.
"The pandemic hit on a deep housing affordability crisis and exacerbated the challenges Americans have paying rent," COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project co-founder Sam Gilman told 60 Minutes. "They were one emergency away from not being able to pay rent, and the pandemic was that emergency."
Such was the case for Charlothe Salguera-Herrera, a mother from Tampa. She and her boyfriend both work in the restaurant industry, so pandemic shutdowns have hit their income especially hard. When Salguera-Herrera's unemployment payments arrived in one lump sum, her temporarily elevated income meant she no longer qualified for food stamps.
The mother of three kids, including an eight-month-old infant, Salguera-Herrera has since been able to return to work. But she still struggles to pay rent.
"The hours are there, kind of, but the money isn't," she said. "So, we're trying to work as much as we can. You'll have to work double just to make what you used to make."
Salguera-Herrera said it is important for her to stay in her apartment so her two older children have the stability of continuing to attend the same school, especially now that they are back to attending class in person. Virtual learning, she explained, was a challenge.
"There's too much going on at home, especially when we were all home in quarantine and I had just brought back a brand-new baby," she said. "They couldn't focus. They couldn't stay on focusing on what they needed to do."
Salguera-Herrera is aware of what it could mean to end up unsheltered. Having previously experienced homelessness, she and her two older kids once lived in a friend's backyard shed. Her focus now is to keep that from happening again, but she worries what might happen to her family in the new year.
"We're trying to figure out how we can just figure it out and not get evicted and not be put on the street," she said.
For families like Salguera-Herrera's, the harms of being evicted go beyond losing their current home. An eviction negatively impacts a tenant's credit report, and it could jeopardize their future housing options. According to Florida social worker Laura Tucker, some landlords will not rent to people who have been evicted from a previous home.
"An eviction can impact a family's ability to re-house for more than ten years," Tucker said. 'So even if you have a good paying job and you have the ability to pay for month to month for your apartment, finding an apartment that will accept you once you have an eviction is almost impossible."
LASTING EFFECTS OF EVICTIONS ON CHILDREN
Experts fear children will suffer greatly during the looming wave of evictions.
Last month, an amici curiae brief was filed in support of the CDC's eviction moratorium on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, among others.
"Eviction is particularly traumatizing to children and affects emotional and physical well-being and development for years, if not for lifetimes," the brief reads. "Eviction increases the likelihood of emotional trauma, lead poisoning, food insecurity, and academic decline for children."
The risk of eviction is also higher for households with kids. Data analyzed by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project show that housing insecurity disproportionately impacts families with children. Within the renter population, about one quarter of families with children are currently behind on their rent, according the group.
Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a non-profit organization that works to overcome homelessness through education, worries about the number of children who will be at risk when the eviction moratorium expires.
"There's a lot of fear that the numbers that were already at record level before the pandemic are going to go even higher," Duffield said. "And that is terrifying, if you think about how many children were homeless before the pandemic. As bad as it is now, it's only likely to get worse unless there's lots of different levels of intervention."
Research has demonstrated the link between children experiencing homelessness and not attending school. Statistics show that unsheltered children are chronically absent at a rate that is at least double that of the overall student population.
But now, the pandemic is poised to exacerbate that divide. Temporarily staying with friends and family may no longer be an option because of health concerns, and with mass evictions on the horizon, shelters that permit families will fill quickly. This will make children more transient and less able to attend class in-person. If schools switch to virtual learning, evictions will continue to have an acute effect on children's academic success, particularly if they are staying in family shelters or hotel rooms without adequate internet service.
Duffield said the risk of children losing connection to school now could ripple throughout their lives.
"We know that the single greatest risk factor for experiencing homelessness as a young adult is not having a high school degree or GED," Duffield said. "So children missing out on their education now not only puts them at risk for many ills, for lack of employment, for health problems, but it also greatly increases their chances of being homeless when they grow up. So the cycle of homelessness can continue into adulthood."
The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and Will Croxton. It was edited by Will Croxton.