Feature

We Already Have a Border Wall. It’s an Environmental Disaster.

As of Thursday, the U.S. government has been partially shut down for 13 days due to the Trump administration’s demand that a new funding package include money for a border wall with Mexico. The new House Democratic majority intends to vote on a bill to re-open the government that doesn’t include such funding soon after it’s sworn in. The administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have called the bill a non-starter.

But ask anyone living along the U.S.-Mexico line, and they’ll tell you: We already have fences and walls, drones and helicopters, surveillance towers, checkpoints, and border patrol agents speeding their ATVs across the fragile biotic crust of the desert.

In fact, communities are suffering due to decades of militarization and border infrastructure. Today’s walls and fences already cover 700 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, dividing towns and families, and causing damage to the environment and border communities, many of which are low-income, tribal, or on the Mexican side of the line.

In short, we don’t need or want another wall.

In 1994, landing strips from the Vietnam War-era were welded together into a wall that separated Nogales, Arizona from its sister city of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Raised like a crude, rusty flag, the wall was part of Operation Gatekeeper, implemented by the Clinton administration alongside a new border strategy called “prevention through deterrence.” The policy set out to deter border crossers by militarizing urban areas along the border.

But the sudden increase in walls, cameras, and border patrol agents did nothing to curb border crossers, and instead pushed them further into the inhospitable desert. Two decades later, the desert has become a graveyard, with more than 7,000 bodies found and thousands of additional border crossers missing.

In October 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act, which approved the building of additional border fencing. A year earlier, the REAL ID Act of 2005 included a provision that gives the secretary of homeland security power to waive any law deemed at odds with the “expeditious construction of physical barriers and roads” along the U.S. border.

“The result [of the REAL ID Act] been that along a quarter of the 2000-mile border, we have a total of four dozen laws that are off the books,” says Dan Millis, the borderlands program manager of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter. A total of 48 federal laws have been waived, including the Clear Air Act, Clean Water Act, Migratory Bird Treaty, Endangered Species Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“That means that if you live in a border community where these laws have been waived, and the border patrol wants to set up a giant gravel pit to build Donald Trump’s wall, they have the ability to do that, and not comply with any of the laws that other gravel pits have to,” says Millis. “They could dump toxic sludge into your drinking water and there’s nothing you could do about it, because these laws don’t apply. The body of laws that have been built up over decades to try to protect human rights and the environment have been thrown in the trash can.”

Walls in general cause structural and geological issues, including flood, erosion, and sedimentation, and the poorly-designed, ill-conceived border infrastructure has indeed malfunctioned in serious ways. For instance, in July 2008,  a 5.2-mile section of border fence along southern Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument helped cause a devastating flood.

During a storm that dumped 1-2 inches of rain in 90 minutes, the 15-foot-tall wire mesh fence became a towering net for piled-up debris. The built-in drains in the fence were blocked, preventing water from escaping. And the fence’s foundation, buried six feet below the ground, prevented subsurface draining.

The result was surging water up to 7 feet high that funneled directly through the town of Lukeville, Arizona and the neighboring Mexican town of Sonoyta. The floodwaters caused severe damage to buildings, infrastructure, and natural resources.

Two hundred miles east during the same storm, a 5-foot-high concrete wall built across a storm drain by the U.S. Border Patrol caused severe flooding in sister city Nogales, Sonora. This resulted in $8 million in damage, including damage to 578 homes, and the drownings of two people. Mexican officials declared the flood area a disaster zone.

In response to the flooding, Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Arizona Daily Star, “What we are seeing graphically at Organ Pipe was predictable. … When you build an impediment across a stream, it becomes a dam. And providing some holes in a fence is a joke.”

Not only are such walls structurally and logistically unsound, but some designs would violate a 48-year-old treaty between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the construction of border structures that may affect the flow of the Rio Grande or its floodwaters. The 1970 treaty mandates pre-building approval of both the U.S. and Mexican members of the International Boundary and Water Commission. In 2017, as Trump increased his rhetoric around building a wall, the IBWC’s chief Mexican engineer, Antonio Rascón, told NPR that he would block any proposal that violated the binational treaty. “A concrete wall that blocks trans-border water movement is a total obstruction. If they plan that type of project, we will oppose it,” he said.

But blocking the flow of water is not the only damage the wall causes. The most biologically diverse desert in the United States, the Sonoran Desert spans 120,000 square miles of Arizona, California, and northern Mexico. It is home to thousands of plant and animal species uniquely adapted to the arid climate. Border militarization threatens the habitats, food and water supplies, breeding and migration patterns of these species.

A 2017 report by the Center for Biological Diversity found that “93 threatened, endangered and candidate species would potentially be affected by construction of a wall and related infrastructure spanning the entirety of the border, including jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and Quino checkerspot butterflies.”

“A wall will block movement of many wildlife species, precluding genetic exchange, population rescue and movement of species in response to climate change,” reads the report. “This may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl and other species in the United States.”

The wall also cleaves in half the Tohono O’odham Nation, which has members on both sides of the U.S-Mexico border. The tribe maintains that any barrier is at odds with the Tohono O’odham way of life. “We’ve inhabited this land for so long, since the beginning of time,” says April Ignacio, a member of the Tohono O’odham tribe and an organizer with Indivisible Tohono. “And so not allowing that migration to flow disrupts people’s systems. We know the impacts [the border wall] has already had on our environment.”

They will probably not remember what it was like on O’odham land without the border patrol.
– April Ignacio

As recently as the 1990s, the Tohono O’odham were able to move freely across the border, but Ignacio says all of that changed with Operation Gatekeeper. Tribal members were restricted to certain crossing points and had to carry a tribal ID. As the border wall was erected, the tribe saw increased migrant traffic on tribal lands and observed that certain animals were now unable to migrate. As militarization increased in the form of helicopters, checkpoints, and roving border patrol agents, traditional O’odham practices were greatly affected.

For instance, Ignacio says tribal members are stopped by border patrol while out gathering saguaro fruit or collecting basket-making materials. “One of my cousins was out hunting and had a gun pulled on him,” says Ignacio. “There are areas where men will not hunt because of how border patrol are stationed, or where they’ve patrolled and chased out the game. That directly impacts ceremony.”

Encounters with the border patrol are so disruptive, says Ignacio, that tribal members sometimes discontinue their traditions to avoid them. “They stop collecting. They stop going out.” Or, she says, they become “overly prepared,” carrying tribal ID cards and documents wherever they go and training their children to stay safe during border patrol interactions. She describes “psychological trauma that no one’s talking about, a level of trauma our children are experiencing when they go through checkpoints to state their citizenship… They will probably not remember what it was like on O’odham land without the border patrol.”

Just before Christmas last month, Trump said of the wall on Twitter, “The fact is there is nothing else’s [sic] that will work, and that has been true for thousands of years. It’s like the wheel, there is nothing better. I know tech better than anyone, & technology … on a Border is only effective in conjunction with a Wall.”

Trump does not know the borderlands. He does not know the smell of fry bread, or the way a cholla forest glows in the golden hours just before sunset, or the ferocity of a wash after a summer monsoon. He does not know the pain of a community sliced in half, the bodies in the desert, or the desperation of border crossers fleeing violence and economic destitution. This beautiful, rugged place has already been hijacked and turned into a weapon.

President Trump, we don’t want your wall.

 

 

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Analysis

Netflix With Class: What to Watch Over the Holidays

TalkPoverty is taking a break for the next week, to give our staff a chance to take a vacation and plan for 2019. These are a few of the shows we’ll be watching when we’re offline and need a reprieve from conversations with weird Uncle Sal.

Superstore

The first season of Superstore is essentially The Office, set in a big box store where the workers are making minimum wage. There’s a will-they-won’t-they relationship between coworkers, a brutal assistant manager who would break Dwight Schrute’s spirit in under half an hour, and some classic slapstick to tie it all together.

But the longer the show is on, the better it gets. Beginning in season two, the show starts to tease out the substantive issues that define the characters’ lives and brings them to the forefront without ever getting heavy-handed. That’s not an easy feat: There are plot arcs that deal directly, and unflinchingly, with union busting, health care inequity, documentation status, and paid maternity leave.

The show isn’t perfect: We’d be remiss if we recommended it without noting that a disabled character is played by an actor who does not share his character’s disability. It’s a misstep that could have easily been avoided, and a blemish on a show that handles a number of complicated topics so deftly.

How to watch it: Superstore airs on NBC, and older episodes are available on Hulu. Start with episode two, season two, “Strike.”

Bob’s Burgers

Bob’s Burgers is one of the funniest, most consistent shows on TV. It’s heavy on jokes and wild premises, and its characters are a collection of beautifully unhinged, frantic, awkward humans who are inexplicably relatable. And, at its core, the show is about a working-class family that is barely scraping by. The titular restaurant is always in peril, wealthy business owners are an existential threat, and minor mishaps – like a broken minivan or a decrepit sofa – are big enough financial burdens that zany attempts to replace them often form the basis of an entire episode.

Most importantly, Bob’s Burgers is a joy to watch. It’s a rare depiction of a family that faces stress without becoming bitter, and that struggles without being victims.

How to watch it: New episodes are on FOX, and the entire series is on Hulu. If you’re going to binge it, start with season three – that’s when the show finds its footing.

The cast of The Fosters, a multiracial family drama
Photo: Freeform/Vu Ong

The Fosters

The Fosters finished airing in June and it is genuinely heartwarming, for those looking for some basic queer joy. The Freeform family drama revolves around a lesbian couple raising five kids under one roof – four of whom are foster children. It delves into the working-class life of a police officer and vice principal navigating childrearing, living in a racially mixed family, and the challenges of the foster system. It’s rare to see queer families on television, especially lesbian families, even though nearly 16 percent of same-gender couples are raising children together. For those dismayed its run is over, a spinoff, Good Trouble, is coming to Freeform!

How to watch it: The whole show is on Netflix, and if you want to dip your toes in, try season one’s “I Do” (episode 10) for an extremely wholesome lesbian wedding, and “Quinceañera” (episode four) for some moving family drama.

On My Block

Four inner-city LA teens navigate their coming of age in On My Block, which is a frank look at a part of Los Angeles that’s usually glossed over or turned into a cautionary tale. Monse (Sierra Capri), Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Ruben (Jason Genao), and Jamal (Brett Gray) inhabit different aspects of the Latinx and Afro-Latinx experience in a vibrant narrative deeply rooted in lived experience.

It would be a mistake to focus on the exploration of gang violence here: On My Block also confronts deportations, teen sexuality, family, and more in a diverse reflection of contemporary teen life. Plus, you are going to love Ruben’s abuela.

How to watch it: It’s a Netflix Original, and with only one season available, you can start right at the beginning!

A still from the Speechless Christmas episode
Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless

Speechless

Energetic mom Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) and her chaotic family enliven a drama that’s been widely praised by the disability community for its authentic handling of cerebral palsy from both the perspective of disabled youth growing into their autonomy and parents who advocate tirelessly for access and inclusion. Her son JJ is played by Micah Fowler, who actually has cerebral palsy and fills his role as the titular nonverbal character with gusto. Class comes in as the family struggles to find a good school for JJ, and ultimately finds itself living in the junkiest house in a fancy neighborhood and navigating all that comes with it.

How to watch it: Speechless airs on ABC and you can find the entire series on Hulu. You’ll want to start from the beginning to root yourself in the DiMeo family’s woes … and triumphs.

GLOW

Jenji Kohan’s newest show, based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling series that ran from 1986-1992, is a classic dramedy about a band of misfits that defies the odds. The ensemble cast, featuring Marc Maron, Alison Brie, and Betty Gilpin, is comprised of deeply broken human beings who are trying to relaunch their careers (and redeem themselves after some truly astounding personal mistakes) by filming a low-budget women’s wrestling series in a run-down gym.

The episodes are a little uneven in quality, but the series engages directly with class in a way that feels original: Through the characters and the wrestling personas they take on. It’s worth watching just for real-life WWE star Kia Stevens, who plays Tammé. Tammé’s struggle with the wrestling persona she’s been assigned – who is literally named “Welfare Queen” – is given the air time it deserves in the second season. Her attempt to navigate the space between social responsibility and her very real need to support herself is messy and compelling.

How to watch it: GLOW is a Netflix Original. Start from the beginning, or you’ll struggle to piece together the dynamics between the characters.

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Feature

What Trump Leaves Out When He Talks About the Black Unemployment Rate

President Donald Trump has a lot to say about the economy. His tweets on it are as incessant as they are unreliable: There’s his insistence that we have the “best jobs numbers” in the history of the country (job creation has slowed since Obama’s presidency ended), the time he bragged that we have the “hottest jobs market on planet Earth,” and his confusing claim that he has revitalized the steel industry and spurred the development of six new steel mills (he has not).

None of those claims are exactly true, but the one that happened during his State of the Union address this year is what keeps me up at night. While making the case for his economic platform, Trump specifically touted low black unemployment, saying, “[It’s] something I’m very proud of, African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” Republicans cheered; Democrats grimaced. I rolled my eyes.

The average black unemployment rate since November 2017 is 6.5 percent — indeed the lowest it has been since the United States started recording unemployment for black workers back in 1972. But that does not mean all black Americans are in full economic health, as the president’s proclamation would suggest. More to the point, it is debatable whether Trump should get any credit for such low unemployment metrics or whether they are just a continuation of the Obama administration’s efforts.

First of all, black unemployment is still nearly double white employment nationwide. (In 14 states and the District of Columbia, black unemployment rates are more than double white rates, and in South Carolina black unemployment is triple white rates.) If white unemployment levels were anywhere near this high, it would be considered a national crisis.

There were only 11 times in the past 50 years when the white unemployment rate has been higher than today’s black unemployment rate — and five of those were during the worst recession since the Great Depression. As a reminder, the government responded to that recession with a $831 billion stimulus to boost the economy and lower unemployment. Yet, Trump is praising the same unemployment rate for blacks today without a similar economic response.

What’s worse, the jobs that black workers and white workers get do not pay the same: Black workers earn less money and build less wealth than white workers.

Trump’s rosy economic picture is dangerously misleading for black workers in America.

The typical full-time black worker still earns about $12,000 less annually than a white worker. Gender pay gaps also compound this inequity. On average in 2017, black women earn 66 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. That has a serious impact on peoples’ lives: Roughly 20 percent of black and Hispanic people live in poverty compared to less than 9 percent of white people. This is, in part, because black workers are more likely to be trapped in low-wage work, and the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly a decade. A yearly income at this rate is just over $15,000.

Structural racism contributes to pull black men, in particular, into low-wage work, especially for those with a criminal record. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men. With an estimated 87 percent of employers conducting criminal background checks, formerly incarcerated individuals are more likely to remain unemployed one year after their release and formerly incarcerated men are paid 40 percent less annually than non-incarcerated men.

In addition to wages, wealth disparities along racial lines are even more disturbing. Wealth, which is often held in the form of a person’s homes, savings, and investments, is a cushion that helps families pay for education or keep themselves afloat during periods of unemployment. In 2016, the median wealth of white Americans was $142,180 compared to $13,460 for black Americans.

This directly impacts black Americans’ social mobility. Racial gaps are identifiable with respect to college completion, homeownership, and criminalization. Black Americans hold college degrees at only 62 percent the rate of whites. Among black households, one-third fewer are homeowners compared to white households. Even when black Americans do become homeowners, if the neighborhood they reside is more than 50 percent black, their homes are valued at nearly half the price of similar homes in communities with no black residents. And, with a prison population of 487,300, black Americans account for one-third of America’s federal and state prison inmates, which is more than twice their share of the U.S. population.

Trump’s rosy economic picture is dangerously misleading for black workers in America. The unemployment rate may be lower for black Americans than in the past, but it is still high compared with white rates — and a web of discrimination, criminalization, and low wages is still holding people back. Glossing over those truths to focus on the statistic that suits the president’s talking points doesn’t make the reality of things any better. Black people should not be used as a convenient political prop — especially without meaningful investment in our communities to better our full economic outcomes.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the nature of employment statistics for formerly incarcerated individuals.

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Feature

Louisiana Teachers Are Fighting Tax Breaks for Exxon. And They Might Win.

Oil usually reigns supreme in Louisiana. Since 2008, industry titan Exxon Mobil alone has received $381 million in tax subsidies at the state and local level, second only to those it received in Texas, the oil capital of the U.S. and home to Exxon’s headquarters.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion, then, when a slew of new breaks Exxon requested under the Pelican State’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, known as ITEP, came up for approval in East Baton Rouge in October.

East Baton Rouge’s public-school teachers, however, had other ideas. They may emerge victorious in a fight against one of America’s largest companies in one of the most-industry friendly states in the country.

Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the U.S., with an education system ranked near the bottom as well. It’s also one of the most prolific granters of corporate tax incentives – which generally lower tax payments for companies if they move operations, build new facilities, or invest a certain amount of money in a particular location – trailing only New York in the total amount it hands out. Per capita, Louisiana grants the most corporate tax incentives in the country by far.

Louisiana law, like that in many states, says that the legislature must pass a balanced budget, meaning every cent that gets spent on corporate tax incentives or other giveaways to big businesses is a cent that can’t wind up going toward the other things for which the government is responsible, including education. According to a recent report from Good Jobs First, an organization that tracks corporate tax subsidies, school districts in the U.S. lost a collective $1.8 billion due to corporate tax abatements last year.

Citing the connection between budget struggles in their district and the giveaways local officials kept approving, East Baton Rouge’s teachers formally voted to stage a one-day walkout in October if the tax breaks for Exxon were approved. 2018 saw teacher walkouts across the country that brought attention to low pay, shrinking budgets, and other ills of the public education system; Baton Rouge added the effects of corporate giveaways on public schools to that list.

“You don’t have enough money to give us a raise, we’re below pay in terms of across the nation, and now you’re going to cut the budget, but you want plants and industry such as Exxon to get tax money?” said Angela Reams-Brown, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, when asked why the district’s teachers turned their ire on these tax breaks.

She added that teachers and support staff in her district haven’t received a pay increase in 10 years – which means that once inflation is factored in, teachers there have seen a pay cut of $8,500 since 2008 –  and that they are losing instructors to other cities and states that pay better. Plus, she said, special education classes in East Baton Rouge are rationing paper to get through the year.

“We’re taking on Exxon now, but our fight is with any industry who wants a tax exemption from education. Public education can’t afford to pay the taxes of big industries such as Exxon and Shell and others in the state of Louisiana,” she said.

The threatened walkout garnered enough attention to convince the Louisiana state Board of Commerce and Industry, which oversees ITEP, to push back an initial vote on approving the breaks to last week. Alas, the state board formally gave Exxon approval for $6.6 million in tax breaks over five years (after Exxon pulled some of its applications on its own).

But that’s not the end of the fight: Thanks to a change in procedure initiated by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2016, local government bodies, including school boards, also need to approve the portion of the tax exemptions that directly affects them. The East Baton Rouge school board will get that chance in the next few months.

East Baton Rouge’s teachers and local activists are confident that they can head the giveaways off at the pass. Reams-Brown confirmed that the walkout threat from the teachers still stands if the school board OKs the new tax breaks and said the teachers union will flood the meeting at which the vote will occur. “We plan to be there in full force,” she said.

Exxon has received tax cuts worth some $700 million in East Baton Rouge in the last 20 years, while cutting 1,900 jobs.

“It’s going to be a high-noon moment where we see what the priorities of those officials are,” said Broderick Bagert, lead organizer of Together Baton Rouge, which is also opposed to the tax breaks Exxon requested. “We’re feeling like the level of awareness and understanding now is totally different from anything that’s happened in the past.”

The local business lobby, of course, is decrying the campaign to stop the tax breaks as “pressure from groups using this process to advance their own political agenda.”

It makes sense that schools would be one of the government entities most susceptible to losing money due to corporate tax breaks, since many of those breaks are on property taxes, which are also America’s primary way of funding public education for some reason. The Good Jobs First estimate of $1.8 billion is almost certainly an undercount: Though school districts are supposed to report how much they lose each year due to tax breaks, many don’t.

Of the places that have reported how much money their schools lose, Louisiana is once again near the top of the list, trailing only New York and South Carolina, according to Good Jobs First. Three of the five most affected school districts in the country are located within the state. East Baton Rouge alone lost $17.5 million in the last fiscal year, more than it would cost the district to implement universal pre-K.

Adding some insult to injury, the tax breaks Exxon wants are for plants that are already built; the money isn’t even an incentive anymore, since the work is done, merely a pay out that the company is asking for because it can.

Loads of research has shown that corporate tax incentives don’t actually do what their advocates claim; they simply give big corporations money for shuffling jobs around the country or making investments they would have made anyway. These incentives lead cities and states into a race to the bottom, allowing corporations like Amazon to ignite bidding wars that only benefit shareholders’ bottom lines. According to The Advocate, an East Baton Rouge newspaper, Exxon has received tax cuts worth some $700 million there in the last 20 years, while cutting 1,900 jobs.

East Baton Rouge’s teachers are rightfully saying “enough,” and may even do what loads of other activists have been unable to: Stop a corporate giveaway in its tracks.

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Feature

30 Million Homes Are Unsafe to Live In. This Arizona Organization Has a Model for Fixing Them.

When technician Dustin Shaber arrived at a small home on the east side of Tucson, he was prepared to measure a broken glass door and order a replacement. The homeowner had called in the request to Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona, and Shaber had been dispatched to complete what sounded like a quick job.

But when he arrived, he noticed dark staining on the home’s mortar and a thick layer of algae growing along the exterior wall — something highly unusual for a home in the Arizona desert.

Concerned, Shaber asked the homeowner if she had a leak. “I mostly do plumbing,” he told her, “and what I’m seeing on the wall is symptomatic of a pretty major water leak.” While at first hesitant to talk about it, the homeowner eventually divulged that there was a problem.

She led Shaber through her home, which was covered in two inches of standing water. A broken bathroom faucet ran constantly into a clogged sink, which overflowed onto the floor. As a result, her possessions were moldy and unusable, and she was months behind on her water bills. The pipes were so backed up that the toilet had long stopped working. Overwhelmed and living alone, the homeowner couldn’t figure out who to call about such an enormous issue, which she feared she couldn’t afford to fix.

What began as a simple home repair illuminated a dire situation for a low-income homeowner.

According to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress, 30 million U.S. housing units “have significant physical or health hazards, such as dilapidated structures, poor heating, damaged plumbing, gas leaks, or lead.” By some estimates, poor housing conditions such as these result in health care costs in the billions of dollars.

Such conditions are exactly the kind of overlooked problems that CHRPA’s crew of technicians are trained to solve. In 1982, the Tucson Mennonite church began a small home repair project. Thirty-five years later, that project is now CHRPA, which services upwards of 1,500 low-income households each year across the more than 9,000 miles of Pima County, which has a poverty rate of 18.4 percent.

Many clients are elderly, have disabilities, or are single parents with young children; many live on fixed incomes. After paying for groceries, transportation, medical or dental care, and household goods, there’s little money left for home repair, however critical the problem may be. About 10 percent of homeowners spend more than half their income on housing.

“We prioritize issues of health and safety,” said CHRPA executive director Scott Coverdale. “If we learn of an elderly person who might be medically frail and they don’t have cooling, we go as soon as we have a crew available … Or someone living on $745 a month social security and they pay $350 to the mobile home park, so they literally don’t have the money to fix their cooler or hire a plumber.”

Coverdale and his team of technicians — many of whom are volunteers — conduct emergency repairs ranging from fixing rusted-out pipes and broken water lines to patching up leaky roofs and electrical problems. They also make disability modifications, building wheelchair ramps, widening doorways, and installing shower seats and grab bars. Technicians regularly meet homeowners with disabilities who, previous to modifications, haven’t been able to leave the house or enter the bathroom. Nationally, of households that spend over half their income on rent, between 35 and 40 percent contain someone with a disability.

Technicians often meet people who have been living without cooling for years, some of them in metal-sided trailers in the middle of the desert — a situation particularly dangerous for the medically vulnerable, and one that can lead to hospitalization. CAP reports that “having a working air-conditioner reduces the risk of death from extreme heat by 80 percent,” but “one in five low-income households do not have air conditioners, and many cannot afford the electricity to run them … Low-income households typically spend 14 percent of their total income on energy costs compared with 3.5 percent for other households.”

Coverdale said, “A condition that can be resolved with a $23 cooler pump and an hour of volunteer time ends up costing the community tens of thousands of dollars and the suffering of an individual.” Over the past 10 years, extreme weather events have cost the United States more than $240 billion per year, which includes related health care costs from the burning of fossil fuels.

We want to know about the person in a trailer in the desert with no cooling or no water.
– Scott Coverdale

Before moving to Tucson, Coverdale spent years in Africa and Central America working in advocacy and community development. When he moved to Tucson 18 years ago, he worked construction. While he enjoyed the work, he said “I got a little tired of tearing out a beautiful kitchen and putting in an even more beautiful kitchen.” So he began working with CHRPA. “We’re not just technicians,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is respond to the human need, not just the technical need.”

The organization has forged partnerships with various organizations and agencies across the county. In the case of the homeowner with the standing water in her home, Shaber worked with caseworkers to advocate for a new, safe residence. In other cases, hospitals will refer patients without cooling or water, or the fire department will alert them to a housebound homeowner in need of a wheelchair ramp. CHRPA currently partners with Tucson Water to replace older toilets with newer low-flush toilets to conserve water.

“If someone is isolated or vulnerable, we absolutely want the referral,” said Coverdale. “Even if we have too much work to do already. We want to know about the person in a trailer in the desert with no cooling or no water. It’s really hard to find that person.”

CHRPA receives its funding in a variety of ways, including individual donations and grants from foundations. It also receives material donations — such as work trucks — and funding from utility companies. Unclaimed utility deposits are put into a fund that CHRPA can use for certain home repairs, such as cooler replacements. Tucson Water supplies them with plumbing hardware, including pipes and kitchen faucets. And the organization receives funds from city and county community development block grants and from HUD.

In October, CHRPA volunteer Don L. wrote about responding to a request from a woman named Reglinda, who was suddenly living alone after her husband passed away. During her husband’s long illness, home repairs had not been kept up, and there were several doors that no longer locked or closed. “I don’t feel safe being here alone,” Reglinda told the CHRPA staff. “I love my little house, but I can barely sleep at night because it doesn’t close up anymore.” Volunteers Ted and Don spent two days replacing weather stripping, installing a front door threshold, fixing door jambs, and replacing doors.

“It is one job of hundreds, one house of the myriad homes we visit, one client of the multitude,” wrote Don. “But for Ted and I and Reglinda, there is a transaction of good will that went beyond the $527 of doors and hardware.”

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