DALLAS, TEXAS (VG) While politicians are arguing over an economic rescue package, millions of Americans are at risk of being evicted from their homes. Jessica Lusk (28) is literally terrified on behalf of her three-year-old daughter Brandi.
– It’s a terrible situation. It feels so scary.
While Brandi proudly shows that she has finally learned to walk by herself, mum tries to put into words how the last few months have been experienced for the family.
Things went from being difficult before the corona pandemic to becoming nearly impossible now. Or as her husband Jesse Garcia describes it to VG:
– The whole situation is madness. It’s like a bad dream that never ends.
Extremely rare disease
Lusk and Garcia live in a small three-room apartment in the south of Dallas, Texas’ third largest city. It is spartanly decorated. The children Elijah (6), Isabella (5) and Brandi share one bedroom, while the parents have the other.
The youngest girl suffers from an extremely rare metabolic disease, which means, among other things, that it is not possible to digest certain fats and convert them into energy. Brain damage is common. Many do not survive the infant stage.
Her parents say that Brandi actually died just a few hours after she was born.
– I breastfed her in the delivery room and it took her life. The fat in the milk was like poison to her, her mother says.
Fortunately, the doctors managed to bring her back to life, but the message afterwards was clear: Her parents could not count on Brandi wanting to learn things like walking or talking.
Three weeks ago, however, the 3-year-old got up on his own two feet for the first time, and managed to walk without help. She has also learned a very few single-syllable words. She constantly smiles and says “hello” to VG’s photographer who takes pictures of her.
– But right now that she has started to get better, the whole world has come to a standstill with the pandemic. Now she can go, but she can not go out and play with the other children she sees just outside the window here. How are we going to explain it to her every day? She cries when we say no, Garcia says resignedly.
BLID: Despite her challenges, Brandi is a smiling youngster. Mom Jessica, dad Jesse and grandma Diane still say that she can have temperament if she does not get what she wants.
Can mean death
The immune system of the little girl, who lives on an extremely strict diet and gets food through a snake into her stomach every four hours around the clock – even when she is asleep -, is barely existing. A common cold can mean an urgent trip to the hospital.
The coronavirus can mean death.
Therefore, the family has been in self-imposed quarantine since March. They are terrified of being infected and passing the virus on to the youngest in the family. Brandi’s two older siblings are not allowed to go to school just across the street. They are also not allowed to play with the children on the other side of the living room window. There have been a lot of drawing blocks lately.
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Dad has quit his factory job and Mom no longer works as a domestic worker.
Thus, the family is in an extremely difficult financial situation. The only income they have now is, according to themselves, the 207 dollars Lusk receives a week in a kind of unemployment benefit as her job was shut down without her resigning. Garcia gets nothing.
The money will then be used for rent, food, medicine for Brandi and everything else. That calculation simply does not work out. The rent alone is $ 900 a month. They say they already owe $ 8,000 to the homeowner.
IN QUARANTINE: Elijah looks at the kids who are out playing. He and his sisters Isabella and Brandi do not get further than the balcony themselves.
Fear they lose the children
A temporary decision by the authorities to defer payment for people who have become financially disabled due to the corona pandemic is right now the only thing that stands between them and homelessness. The problem is that this decision expires at the end of the year. And in any case, the money must be paid to the homeowner sooner or later.
– We have nowhere to go if we are thrown out. We have been advised to go to a hostel, but we can not take our daughter to such a place. It just does not work, says mom, and continues:
– What I fear most is that this will end up with us becoming homeless and that the authorities take the children from us. It feels completely wild to say that, but that’s how it is.
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– I hope there will be a vaccine soon. And I hope I can find a job I can do here from home. But I have no education, so it’s not that easy. We need a miracle, I’m afraid, says Dad.
– Has exploded
It may not be the big, final miracle they hope for, but every Tuesday there is still some help for the family. Then grandmother Diane Lusk picks up lunch boxes that are handed out free of charge to the needy outside a tiny church along the highway in Wilmer, a few minutes drive further south.
– The number of people who come here has exploded after the corona pandemic, Emmanuel Wealthy, Wilmer’s mayor and initiator of the food distribution, which has been going on since last autumn, tells VG.
VOLUNTEERS: Kerwin LaFrance, Jamel Richardson and Sheila Jones were among those who helped put the food boxes, which the mayor obtains from various cooperative organizations, in the cars.
Car after car rolls into the square in front of the church. They are asked how many family members they need food for. The number of boxes with things such as sausages, chicken, milk, butter and potatoes that make up is written in ink on the windshield, while the luggage compartments are opened. The cars drive to the trailer that has arrived with the boxes, the correct number is put into the car by volunteers and they then drive off again. The same ritual lasts for several hours.
– At most, food has been fetched for 3,000 people in one and the same day here. In total, we have distributed to 120,000 since we started, says the mayor.
Critical of Trump
Edwin Favors is the pastor of the church where the long food queue forms every Tuesday morning. He is desperate about the situation the United States is in.
– It is heartbreaking to see these long queues. We meet so many who have lost their jobs and are in danger of losing their homes. Before, they lived from salary to salary. Now there is no salary anymore, he says, and adds:
– We are definitely in the middle of a crisis now.
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The situation is by no means unique to Dallas, or Wilmer. Similar things are seen all over the country. A survey this month found that eight million more Americans are considered poor now than was the case just six months ago.
The pastor believes that the United States as a nation has not had a good enough plan for how to deal with a crisis such as the corona pandemic. He is also clear that the president has not succeeded in dealing with it along the way.
– It is a problem when those who govern do not understand what problems people are struggling with out in the country. I am amazed that one can possess so much power, but refrain from using that power in an effective way, he says.
May be the cause of election loss
For Donald Trump, the corona crisis has also become a personal political crisis. A large majority of the people do not trust the way he has handled it. If he loses the election, most experts will say that this was exactly the reason.
Irene Jones Bell is one of those who is not happy with the job he has done. She is among several VG talking to in the food queue who lost their jobs when the pandemic came, and who fear losing their homes as well.
– Things have always been demanding for us, but it is extremely much tougher now. The food we get here is a blessing.
– What’s your message to the authorities in Washington, DC?
– That they should think of us who have voted for them in the same way as they think of their own family. “We, the people,” she says, referring to the first words in the preface to the US Constitution.
– Political negotiation card
But the latest news from the capital is that politicians in Congress and the White House are unable to agree on a crisis package, which could provide much-needed funding to people like Jones Bell and little Brandi’s family.
It provokes tax lawyer Mark Melton (42) in Dallas.
– It appears that this has become a political negotiating card before the election instead of a desire to provide help to those who really need it.
Since March, he has provided legal advice on social media to people who are at risk of being evicted from their homes. There were many who had questions. Finally, he spent all his days on the phone. Therefore, he has recruited 150 other lawyers to help.
– It has been extremely busy and it is a mental strain. All the conversations you have are with someone who is having the worst day of their life. Here one day I saw a report on TV about people who were thrown out. Then I broke down. I sat and cried for several hours, says the lawyer, who estimates that he spends half the time on legal advice and half on social assistance.
Became homeless myself
However, he will not stop helping. Neither those who just need advice, nor those who have already been evicted, and he has helped find a new place to live. He knows better than most what a desperate situation people are in.
As a 21-year-old, he experienced it himself with the small family he had already managed to start. He lost his job in Oklahoma.
– In practice, I became homeless. We got in the car and drove here to Dallas in hopes of better opportunities.
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That experience is a big part of the reason why he is now trying to help others who, completely innocent – due to the consequences of the pandemic – have ended up in a similar situation.
30-40 million can be thrown out
But he and other volunteers, such as those who distribute food at the church along the highway, cannot solve this massive problem alone.
To prevent millions of Americans from taking to the streets, Melton believes that politicians must do something, and they must do it now. Because even after an agreement in Congress is possibly in place, it could take up to a couple of months before people around the country see something for the money. And in just over two months, the decision on deferral of payment will expire.
– If a rescue package does not arrive very soon, it may already be too late. Many already owe several months with rent, the tax lawyer points out.
An analysis has shown that 30-40 million Americans are at risk of being evicted from their homes. Melton thinks that is a realistic number.
With an unemployment rate of around 10 percent, about 17 million able-bodied Americans are out of work. If these can not pay for themselves, then we quickly talk about that at least 30 million people are now at risk of becoming homeless, the lawyer states.