Homeless at the Gates of Disney World: A Review of Andrew Ross’ “Sunbelt Blues”



Most people don’t think of motels when they think of homelessness. A homeless person is often described as middle-aged, unemployed and male, with substance abuse problems, sleeping rough in a park or under a bridge. Yet homelessness is a specter. One of the fastest growing groups of homeless people is older women without pensions. First deprived of a place in the workforce or paid less than their male colleagues, older women face more vicissitudes as they age, even if they make it to Sunshine State, the retirement mecca of the States. -United. Other people struggling to survive in motels off I-192 are the underemployed, people with drug problems, those with bad credit, or refugees from Puerto Rico’s hurricanes.

Many without long-term housing To have
consistent work: Their jobs are so poorly paid that it is impossible to post a deposit and monthly rent for an apartment. Some of the homeless even work for Disney and, as Ross points out, the “grim living conditions contrast sharply with the joyous emotional labor required from the cast members.” Housing insecurity involves surfing on a couch, sleeping in cars, getting a discounted motel room, living in an RV, or pitching a tent. All of these means of ensuring affordable housing are threatened as land prices rise and conventional housing construction becomes more profitable. When Ross visits those who live in undeveloped swamps near the freeway, he discovers complex communities, often with seniors discussing Social Security, Medicaid, and prescription drugs from their tents. Heartbreakingly, he also meets people who have gone there with terminal illnesses waiting to die while seeking pharmacological solutions for their severe pain.

While the slums Growing in the woods, Florida’s real estate market is on fire, with house prices at record highs and innovative new construction wherever land is available. “The greatest transfer of this real estate wealth has occurred in the Sunbelt States whose economies are fueled by an unhealthy cocktail of skyrocketing growth, uninvited regulation, depressed wages and real estate speculation,” Ross tells us. Indeed, it is the Houstons, Orlandos and Phoenixes that have exploded in recent years, with corresponding problems for those with precarious housing. Many suffered traumatic childhoods, drug addiction and domestic violence, adding immense psychological strain to the already heavy burden of poverty. The motels and then the illegal campsites on I-192 are the last step in a descent of the economic ladder, sometimes rationalized by those whose spiral has led them there:


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