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Basic necessities are scarce for everyone under COVID-19; residents in low-income households tell us it’s even worse for them.

“Our community has always survived without, so this isn’t necessarily new, but during a state of emergency, we are more vulnerable than ever. We have always made do. But now, nothing is available, and we are panicking.”

This is what residents in low-income households are saying about life during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The global pandemic also known as coronavirus has changed everyday life for nearly everyone. But for the families who were already struggling in subpar living conditions, these changes have acutely harmed their lives.

The federal government has promised to step in with aid, but the initial proposal in the U.S. Senate neglected to include very low-income people for recovery resources. While this ultimately is debated and settled in Congress, advocates are speaking out about making relief available to these families.

And while it is true that some hardships are universal, the problems that have existed for low-income households have grown exponentially. The selection might be slim at the local supermarket, but if you live in a food desert and are without transportation, your local dollar store is often the local grocer. These supplies are already limited. 

One resident provided a photo of a “menu” from a grocer-on-wheels that has marked up prices to alarming levels, who also happen to accept SNAP. Under uncertain times, this is the only market that serves some of the poorest neighborhoods.



We wanted to provide a forum for residents in low-income housing in Houston to speak about their experience during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are a few of their stories:

Digital Divide

ReRe is a single mother trying to manage a home with all of these new complications: “I have three kids and one foster care child I’ve been working hard to support. I just got a job and I’m in training right now, so I’m doing everything I can to keep it together.” With her kids now at home during the day, she’s had to get creative with stretching a dollar for food and childcare. But some of the modern ways of getting assistance are difficult to navigate. “People are panicking, because everyone is trying to apply for SNAP. And since the offices are closed, people are having to try to apply online or over the phone and it’s impossible to get through.”

Ms. Cannon at Coppertree Apartment is worried about the relief she’s supposed to get to help her kids keep up with school. “We are now facing problems on top of the problems that we already had… We have no Wi-Fi and haven’t been able to get a tablet or a laptop for my kids to do their schoolwork on.”

Transportation

Betty is a 72-year-old woman who lives alone at Sandpiper Cove with no transportation, since the bus routes near her have been cut. “My daughter lives in League City with her three children and she has no money for gas to get to me. I’m stuck here worried about my daughter and grandchildren, because they have no money or food and I’m scared to death. I haven’t been able to go pick up my medication. The few stores around us are without water or food. I looked in my fridge this morning and realized I only had enough food for a day or so.”

Work Shortages

Stephany Winn spoke about the extra jobs she used to have disappearing: “I’ve had to survive doing a side hustle, cleaning peoples houses to get by. Now I can’t even do that, because of the coronavirus. I don’t have a car, so I have to depend on other people to take me places, and right now everybody is hustling, so getting a ride is hard.”

Ms. Mitchell spoke about the hardship of losing work under this crisis. “It’s four of us in this apartment. I’m not working and my mom just got laid off. My daughter is only two years old and has a very weak immune system, which really scares me during this time… We were fighting for better housing before with issues like no heat, broken tub, and a leaky roof. But now we’re fighting to stay alive.”

Janey Williams is concerned about the lack of safety nets for folks who have lost jobs: “My daughter lost her job because of the coronavirus, so now we’re trying to survive off of my Social Security. It’s tough on poor people right now. We already were struggling to survive — and now this. We are losing our jobs, our kids are at home and we need to give them food, but with what money?”

Healthcare gaps

Cynthia Minix told us about the challenges of having a partner with a disability. “I work cleaning people’s houses, so my hours have been cut down so low. I’m scared that I won’t have a job tomorrow. It’s me and my husband at the house and he is disabled. I don’t have a car and I have no money in the bank. I live from paycheck to paycheck, so what happens when there’s no paycheck? The coronavirus is taking away the little bit we have.”

Tina Harris spoke about being quarantined in a home that already feels unsafe. “My daughter has been sick on and off for months now. Because of this mold in this apartment, she’s had a really bad respiratory problem and now this coronavirus could attack her lungs. I had just started working not even two weeks ago, and now it looks like I’m going to lose this job, they’ve already cut my hours. We can’t get a break!”

These personal accounts show the clear divide between those who live in neighborhoods with resources and those who have no resources. We are all adjusting to the reality of life under COVID-19, but residents in low-income, impoverished areas are facing a reality that could mean homelessness or extreme hunger. There must be better protections for our neighbors prior to a crisis, so this could not happen again.

If you are in the position to help or are someone seeking assistance during the COVID-19 crisis, here is a great resource from The Texas Tribune of how to help here in our state.

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