Homeless Reporter Scores with Jobs Story
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Jake Ashford is homeless. He's also an investigative reporter. He helped break a story about eviction companies allegedly hiring homeless people, at less than the minimum wage to evict renters. Some of those renters have become homeless themselves. Jake Ashford went undercover to report this story for a newspaper called Street Sense. It's a paper staffed by the homeless in Washington, D.C.
And Mr. Ashford joins me now from our studios in Washington.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. JAKE ASHFORD (Reporter, Street Sense): Thank you.
BRAND: Well, how did you first hear about this, about what was going on with these eviction companies? How did you find out about it?
Mr. ASHFORD: Because there's a place that I eat breakfast and take showers every morning called Somes(ph). And this is over on northwest side of D.C. on O Street. IT'S not the first time that I've seen, you know, somebody taking advantage of the homeless and everything, because, you know, as far as the - for the whole day of work you might make $15 or something like that.
BRAND: For eight hours of work?
Mr. ASHFORD: For eight hours of work. I did one time before this - before I got the opportunity to do this story with Laura Osuri - maybe I'm just crazy and everything - I couldn't believe this was going on. The first time I did it was in 2005.
BRAND: So the companies - the eviction companies would come and say do you want to work for a day.
Mr. ASHFORD: Yes.
BRAND: And evicting other people.
Mr. ASHFORD: Exactly. You know, as far as families - and, of course, you know this, it's the people that live in poverty already. So, you know, as far as we - we're not really helping America by, you know, as far as doing that and everything.
BRAND: So these companies would offer you $16 a day?
Mr. ASHFORD: Five dollars an eviction. At the houses.
BRAND: And what would you do? Go to the houses and do what?
Mr. ASHFORD: Okay. We'll go to the house and first the U.S. Marshals come to clear the house, make sure they can handle the problem before we get started.
Mr. ASHFORD: They'll go through to see if any families is in there. They'll ask them leave and everything, because they already got, you know, previous notice that this is going to happen. If it does not rain and we go to a house, that family is coming out of there.
BRAND: So then you would clear out all of their belongings? Is that what you would do?
Mr. ASHFORD: Well, like the furniture, clothes, and, you know, TVs, the high electronics and everything, that be set right on the street. And it's crazy because everything in the house just get pulled, just brought out. You can't really afford to guard it because you trying to find a place to live. So you don't have nobody to stand out there and guard your stuff. So end result, everybody come and picking through it and taking at will and everything. And I was like, I can't believe this goes on in America.
BRAND: And could you believe that you were being paid some, what, $2 an hour to do this.
Mr. ASHFORD: Or even less. And one day we did two evictions. They paid me $15 because one of the houses was like three-stories high.
BRAND: And so, did you protest? Did you say this isn't enough money?
Mr. ASHFORD: Of course, I did. But far as the end results, I can get this story out. And I told them what was going on.
BRAND: And so what's happened since your story was published, I believe last April?
Mr. ASHFORD: Okay. We have Wall Street. They published the story on...
BRAND: The Wall Street Journal, yeah.
Mr. ASHFORD: ...on Friday. Like, local newspapers, like the Washington Post, they had given us an opportunity to do a story, as far as covering that. And the City Paper, also.
Mr. ASHFORD: And it has opened up a whole lot of avenues for us. And we thank the public for giving us the opportunity.
BRAND: I understand a law firm is now looking into whether or not to sue these eviction companies.
Mr. ASHFORD: And I pray that they do sue, because as far as that's - that's just too much. And it's still going to go on and everything. But the only way we grow in America is if we see something wrong, continue to take action. Do not let nothing pass. Because right now, we in trouble right now, in America.
BRAND: Jake Ashford is a reporter in Washington, D.C. for the newspaper Street Sense.
And Mr. Ashford, thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. ASHFORD: Thank you, Madeleine.
BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.