Sherenna decides to evict Crystal as well as Arleen. Arleen finds a new apartment, a one-bedroom at the top of the North Side going for $525 a month. The landlord is a white woman named Carol who screens Arleen in person as soon as they meet. Arleen explains her circumstances, and Carol chastises her for being on SSI, advising her to get a job. Arleen lies about receiving child support, which she doesn’t, and claims to only have one child. Carol says she needs to see Arleen’s current apartment. Arleen rushes back to hide Jori’s clothes and clean.
Carol’s patronizing scolding of Arleen suggests that she has little understanding of the reality of surviving as a young, impoverished black mother who did not graduate from high school. Carol may have come to believe negative stereotypes about women like Arleen through conservative propaganda, and as a result think that Arleen’s lack of job is due to laziness.
Arleen cries while getting the apartment ready, and Crystal hugs her. Carol arrives and announces that the apartment “does not look good.” She adds that she doesn’t understand how the death of Arleen’s sister is her “landlord’s problem,” adding that one of her employees used the minimum state allowance for her mother’s funeral and it was fine. Arleen apologizes and suggests that she set up a “vendor payment” of her W-2, which would mean her rent would be automatically deducted from her W-2 check each month. Carol likes the idea but tells Arleen her cat can’t come. Arleen agrees and hugs Carol, overjoyed that she has an apartment at last.
Arleen’s desperation is shown through the fact that she is so grateful to Carol despite Carol’s callousness and cruelty. Indeed, the fact that Arleen is grateful to Carol anyway is representative of a broader dynamic within the housing system. Desperate to avoid homelessness and rocked by eviction, tenants continue to willingly embrace terrible housing deals (and landlords), thereby preserving the cycle of injustice.
Arleen decides to stay at a shelter until she moves into the new place; this way she will receive Red Cross funds that will allow her to pay her security deposit. When she and Crystal say goodbye, they say that they can’t live without each other now. Arleen takes her belongings to a storage unit after managing to scrape together $21 for the reduced rate fee. She doesn’t have the extra $8 required to buy insurance, but the man working there lets it slide. She failed to hear back from any shelters, so she and the boys return to Crystal’s, sleeping on the floor. Arleen learns that Carol has given the apartment to someone else.
Arleen’s life consists of a series of incredibly difficult decisions, often between two terrible options. Moreover, her attempts to plan for the future (for example, by ensuring she has enough money for the deposit on the new apartment) require her to make significant sacrifices in the present (moving into a shelter). To make matters worse, the future is incredibly uncertain for Arleen, as shown when Carol decides to lease the apartment to another tenant.
As Arleen and the boys leave Crystal’s again, the two women get into a screaming fight. Under better circumstances, they probably would have had a close friendship. Crystal suffers from a range of mental health problems resulting from her sexual abuse and neglect in childhood, including bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress, and emerging borderline personality disorder. She has attachment issues that make her lash out at those closest to her and tends to react to frustration and anxiety in a volatile manner. This combination of mental health issues and an IQ of roughly 70 means that Crystal requires treatment and assistance in order survive. Yet with Arleen gone, she has been left all alone.
It is well known that poor people are prevented from receiving proper health care—and especially mental health treatment—for a variety of reasons, chief among them lack of insurance and/or funds to pay for care. Yet housing instability also affects people’s access to healthcare. Without a stable home address, maintaining prescriptions and access to a particular physician or hospital becomes difficult.