‘My pride has gone. We’re pretty much homeless now’


Lightner family
If the US moratorium on evictions expires, the Lightner family may face homelessness

For Omar Lightner and his family in Florida, this Christmas will mean much more than a smaller gathering.

With a US-wide moratorium on eviction set to expire on 31 December, they could be homeless by the end of the holiday season.

“We’ve got 200 bucks saved up, it’s going to get us nowhere, It’s the timing. It’s the holidays,” Lightner said. “I sit up at night thinking how I can explain to my kids they can’t have a Christmas because we have to get out of here in a few days.”

Lightner, 42, lost his job as a truck driver with a home removals firm because of the pandemic in February. Since then, he has been living off his savings in a motel in Jacksonville with his wife Tawanda and children Jayla, 10, Jasmine, eight, and Jamal, six.

Their money is quickly running out.

“My savings were $22,000 (£16,200) when we went to the extended stay,” Lightner said. “That ran us to about $17,300. The rest went towards food stamps. That helped out a lot. But we’ve got two kids with severe autism; there’s medicine and therapy to pay for.”

Omar Lightner
Lightner says his most immediate worry is how to secure a home for his family

While the Lightners figure out how to stretch their finances, US lawmakers are trying to reach an agreement on a second $900bn Covid-19 aid bill that could help those most affected by the pandemic.

The package is expected to include hundreds of billions of dollars of support for America’s unemployed and struggling businesses, as well as vaccine distribution and education.

Back in March, President Trump signed the largest-ever US financial stimulus package, worth $2tn. Through it, Omar managed to access $1,200 per month in unemployment benefits.

In August, those payments stopped. He said he has been told to be patient whilst an administrative backlog is cleared.

As Lightner continues to look for work, he’s pinning his hopes on support from the second stimulus package. Though less than the first package, it is expected to offer $600 (£444) stimulus cheques to millions of Americans and 10 weeks of jobless aid.

Jamal and Jasmine Lightner
Jamal, 6, and Jasmine, 8, on their way to school

Lightner’s biggest and most immediate worry is how to secure a home for his family.

In September, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was given the authority to temporarily halt evictions to help curb the spread of the virus and assist those facing financial hardship. That rent relief expires at the end of this month and could impact between 2.4 and 5 million American households, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Lightner family is one of those facing eviction come 1 January. They have fallen four weeks behind in rent.

Jamal Litmer
Litmer’s son, Jamal, needs the motel’s TV to help calm him down

Lightner explains that as part of the motel’s eviction policy, items deemed non-essential can be removed from their room. This week, it’s been the TV, something the couple desperately need to calm Jamal whose autism means he is unable to speak.

“We are a family of five, there are no shelters available to take us right now,” Lightner said.

“My pride has gone. We’re pretty much homeless now. And I was a man who was always big on pride. I worked all my life. We always had a nice house and nice vehicles.

I know how I grew up- I had to work to get that stuff. And it’s been taken away through no fault of my own. “

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