End My Year of Couchsurfing – Help a Labor Reporter Afford a Security Deposit

Help Us Reach Our Goal of $1,700.

$1,530 / $1,700

Donate Here!

For the past year, I haven’t exactly been homeless, but I haven’t exactly had a home.

Since being evicted from my apartment in Chattanooga last November, I have stayed with an assortment of friends, family members, and total strangers, who wanted me to come to their town to report, as I have been unable to afford a home of my own.

During that time, I filed dozens of stories that no one else in the media covers, like the record-breaking spike in latino construction deaths in Nashville, last week’s picket line at the Washington Post, and the role of low wages and privatization in last December’s deadly Chattanooga school bus crash.

Through our reader’s generous donations, I was able to file more than 15 dispatches on the historic Nissan union election in Canton, Mississippi, including five for the Guardian, three times as many stories as any of our rival publications.

It almost didn’t happen.

Last November, I packed all my earthly belongings into a storage unit in Chattanooga and went North to stay at the residence of retired Pennsylvania Judge Wayne Hanson near Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania.

It should be noted that Judge Hanson was never a lawyer, but a social worker who knew how to mobilize people through organizing. He invented his own spreadsheets and knew exactly where each of his 2,500 votes were in his district.

I had mentored under the Judge when I worked as a young field organizer working for President Obama. We knocked on hundreds of doors together and had scores of doors slammed in our faces, but the Judge kept pushing me on. He taught me never to feel ashamed or embarrassed when you were asking someone to do something on behalf of a good cause.

At 76, in 2015, the yinzer Judge came down to visit me for a month in Chattanooga. When I was unable to afford my apartment there, the Judge invited me to come live with him for a few months in Pennsylvania until I could save up enough money to get back on my feet.

All winter, we planned and strategized a long-term vision for Payday Report. He gave me pep talks as he himself struggled with brain cancer. Every day, he asked me how many people I called to ask for money and how much more I was gonna call the next day.

The Judge was amazed by the energy of Southern organizers he had met and constantly reminded me of the need to get back South.

Eventually, I saved up enough money to get back down South reporting.

The Judge even agreed to sell me his old 2003 Dodge Neon for $800, a low-ball price, considering that its blue book value was more than $3,000. We’ve named our trusty, union-made labor reporting mobile “The Judge Hanson.”

In March, I bought an air mattress, because it is one of the best affordable mattress alternatives when you need to move around. I packed just the essentials into a duffel bag. For four months, I drove more than 14,000 miles, filed dozens of stories, and slept in 20 different locations.

Since I couldn’t afford hotel rooms, I found activists willing to host me for up to a week at a time. Once, I even stayed with this ironworker Randy Bryce, who later became a viral internet sensation after announcing his intent to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Slowly, I began to build networks to fundraise from and, while I was still broke, I found myself somehow getting by, suffering only the occasional anxiety attack when I was unable to afford something. This past summer, I was even able to afford a sublease at a small house in Goshen, Kentucky.

Slowly, it seemed that the solidarity of the labor movement was helping me overcome a rough time. However that sublease expired two weeks ago and for the last two weeks, I have been semi-homeless, couchsurfing once again.

I’m looking to rent a home of my own. It would likely be a long process since some reputed rental property owners that are part of AAOA tend to conduct background checks on their potential tenants. Given that my income is enough to cover my rent, I’m not concerned about defaulting. But I don’t have enough money to put down a deposit for a new place. Coming up with $1,000 immediately for a security deposit is a tough haul especially after coming down with pneumonia in September and missing several freelance assignments. I’ve been looking at Toggle renters insurance and comparing it to other renters insurance out there, so I’m all prepared to start renting, but the deposit is just so frustrating!

During this past year of crashing with friends, family members, and finding short-term rentals, Payday Report was able to accomplish so much. I can’t imagine the level at which we will take Payday once I have a formal home once again. We will need to invest in some security systems too of course, perhaps like those from Verisure Alarm Systems, but that can absolutely wait until things are more stable.

Everything that Payday has and will accomplish is thanks to the support from our generous readers. Again, I’m taking the lesson of Judge Hanson to heart and asking people to support a good cause. Please donate what you can so that I can afford a security deposit of $1,000 and $700 for a moving van to drive up from Chattanooga and gas.

To get a sense of how good Payday could be with a permanent home, take another look at the work I did when I was without a home:

As you can see, on most of the stories we got the exclusive first. The rest of the media had to follow. Maybe sleeping on other people’s couches helped us find out what’s going on, but I think we could do a lot more with a proper home.

So, please if you can, give so that I can afford a security deposit and a moving van to get a permanent residence.

Help Us Reach Our Goal of $1,700

$1,530 / $1,700

Donate Here!

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered everything from Lula & the Brazilian labor movement to major league baseball. He spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian and was labeled by the New York Times as an "abrasive gadfly" for exposing within the labor movement. Raised in a UE union family in Pittsburgh, Elk was illegally for union organizing at Politico in 2015 and used his NLRB settlement to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and is fluent in both Pittsburghese and Portuguese, which he learned when attending journalism school at PUC-Rio de Janerio. Email: [email protected]

1 Comment on "End My Year of Couchsurfing – Help a Labor Reporter Afford a Security Deposit"

  1. An address to which I can send a check?

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