Like a toilet, shelter is one those things you really don’t much notice… until you don’t have it, and need it. It’s turning into a huge issue in Australia – and probably in the US too? I don’t know as much about that as I should. Australia has a situation where government and local government has effectively made building housing an absolute regulatory nightmare, and thus massively expensive to do (with, interestingly, a huge increase in the number of complaints lodged about shoddy building), pushing the price of existing stock (and new, of course) through the roof. This doesn’t leave a lot of space for people… We’re a wealthy country, and we could to some extent, carry this parasite load. But with runaway inflation taking hold, interest rates rising as a result… it’s can’t afford time for even more people. More people are trying to rent. Landlords suddenly find the banks squeezing them, and so they squeeze the tenants. Any not being squeezed, squeeze the tenants anyway, because demand is considerably exceeding supply. This is not just the unemployed guy with drug abuse issues… it’s families with two working parents.
Now, this may all right itself, or not. In true Australian urban fashion (our large cities are remarkably similar to US East Coast cities – and our rural areas gradually tend toward Texas or at least middle America, the further out they get) there is a lot of ‘Guvment got to build more houses’ and ‘guvment got to give more rent assistance’ — things which, um, won’t do much to help, and may well make things much worse. Our local government is certainly trying… to make it far worse. But very suddenly ‘shelter’ – like the toilet in the bathroom that you didn’t even think about, let alone speak about… until that first stomach-cramp hit, is suddenly becoming very important.
Here’s the thing for writers: issues that become important for readers lives, become very important for writer’s books. Books are relatively cheap. They give escape and hope in hard times for not much money. Historically books, like veggie seeds, camping gear, and bottom end of the price-range alcohol… are countercyclical. They sell well when things are terrible. Because I’ve been on the rough edge of nowhere to live, counting the change in my pocket, and despair, I want at least to give as good a value as possible.
So: Shelter… it’s a neglected issue in a lot of books – because, hey, our customers (and we are of them – the writers who don’t read make terrible writers) were mostly in a position where if they could buy books – most of them weren’t sleeping in their car, or under a bridge. Yes, some were sharing rooms, or staying with family or friends, but able to get something. While a few might have lived in fear that tomorrow would be the bridge or the car, for many it wasn’t that near or that common. We’re – certainly in Oz – heading toward near and common. Our temperatures are not as dire in many parts of the country as the US, but it’s still enough to make miserable and kill some. It probably needs to be something we bring in, and something we offer ideas and description of comfort and relief found. Also… well, maybe a shade of reality about what people have and can live in.
Talking of shelter, I wondered whether any of the rest of you also ended up drawing plans of the houses and building you write about. Or is that just me? I get lost as to the continuity without it.
Image Pixabay, no attribution required.