First Person

Getting By Without a Car Was Always Hard. Now It’s a Public Health Risk.

When I was ten, I ended up in the local emergency room. I still remember sitting in the waiting room, shaken and in pain, waiting for answers that had evaded the ER doctors and my pediatrician. My mom, in her oversized cat sweater, hugged me when I asked her if I would feel better. I wanted to go home with her, dance to a vinyl record, and make a blanket fort in the living room like we always did when I was sick. Instead, I would need to go to another hospital to see a specialist who focused on autistic kids and other children with developmental disabilities.

My mom couldn’t drive due to her visual impairment, so I only had three transportation options: We could pay more than $100 for an hour-long taxi ride to the hospital, I could wait in the ER for a day or two until they could get a hospital shuttle van, or I could take an ambulance. I grew up in the projects, so my understanding of ambulances was that they came when something really bad happened — when someone was stabbed in a fight, when my neighbor across the street was injured by her abusive husband, when an elderly neighbor had a heart attack, when someone called 9-1-1 on a mentally ill person for shouting at birds. I didn’t want to ride in one, especially not alone.

We eventually decided on the ambulance, even though the idea terrified me, because I was also afraid of staying in the ER overnight or being in the hospital any longer than necessary. The EMTs didn’t use the siren and I pretended I was just in the back of my Poppy’s old truck, which he used to let me ride in if we were only going to the Melrose public pool down the street.

This wasn’t the first time that I had to make a difficult decision because we didn’t have a family car, nor was it the last. I coordinated my SAT testing schedule with friends so that I could drive with them to the test site, and if I wanted to participate in after-school activities I had to pick the ones that ended before the last round of buses left. I walked a mile and a half to pick up new books from the library and drop off the ones I had finished. I made sure every doctor and therapist I went to was within walking distance or on a public transportation route.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, living without a car isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s a public health risk. The CDC is recommending that people drive alone as much as possible, but more than 10.5 million households in this country don’t have a personal vehicle. Many people who don’t have cars are already part of a marginalized group: They’re poor (households with an annual income of less than $25,000 are nearly nine times as likely to have no personal vehicles), disabled (only 65 percent of disabled people drive compared to 88 percent of non-disabled people), or people of color (14 percent of POC households don’t have a vehicle compared to 6 per cent of white households and immigrants across races are even less likely to have a car). Car access is also limited in very urban or very rural areas (54 percent of households in New York City don’t own a car, and more than 1 million people in rural areas don’t have cars).

Many people who don’t have cars are already part of a marginalized group

The transportation options that exist for people without cars were already imperfect — they’re time consuming, don’t cover many areas, and can be inaccessible and unsafe for disabled people and people of color — but they’re even more challenging in a pandemic. Taking public transportation is a risk right now, as is taking a cab or a ride share service like Uber or Lyft (if that’s even an option, since it’s become more difficult to find a ride). At the same time, budgets for public transit across the country have been cut and service has been reduced, making it increasingly risky and difficult for those who do need these services to use them safely and effectively. This combination directly impacts people who don’t have cars, especially people at a high risk of complications from COVID-19 — disabled people and others with underlying and chronic health conditions.

While the pandemic has made many businesses and medical facilities nimble and creative, many have decided to be ‘innovative’ by going drive-through only. Drive-through food, movies, concerts, religious confessionals, haunted houses, even drive-through COVID-19 testing. They all provide convenient opportunities for people who own their own vehicles who want to get out of their homes, but they widen the inequality gap for those who don’t have cars.

Drive-through services are often very literal. One night in my early twenties, I was staying with friends and we found ourselves hungry at 10 p.m. It was close to the end of our biweekly paychecks, and like most broke people, they’d run out of food in the kitchen. The only places open were drive throughs, so we tried to convince the staff at a drive thru to let us order and pay from the window even though we didn’t have a car. Not having a car was a dealbreaker. They said they legally couldn’t serve us or they’d lose their jobs. (While there doesn’t seem to be a specific law addressing this in Massachusetts, in 2016 in Louisiana a blind man sued McDonald’s for not providing him drive-through service when he walked up to the window.) We’d all worked service jobs, so we understood, but we also went to bed hungry.

I’ve had dozens of moments like that throughout my life: Turning down an internship in college because I had no way to get myself there, choosing not to go to the doctor’s because I felt too sick to walk but not sick enough to call an ambulance, asking a friend to help me print out a school assignment because I wouldn’t have enough time to walk to the library to print it myself, calling my best friend to come pick me up when I threw up in the bathroom at work because I had no other way to get home, not applying to jobs because they weren’t on public transit routes and were too far to walk to.

I can’t help but wonder what my mom and I would do if this pandemic happened during my childhood. We’d be facing the same choices millions of Americans have to make now: Do I take an Uber to get to the COVID-19 testing center? Should I cancel my follow-up appointment if I have to get on a bus to get there? Is it safer to take a cab with a stranger or ask for a ride from my neighbor who’s an essential worker? How much will it cost if I call an ambulance to get to the hospital downtown because I’m nervous about taking the train?

No one should have to live this way, especially during a global pandemic.



12 Million People Still Haven’t Received Unemployment Benefits

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new results from its Household Pulse survey, which tracks the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. This is the first release since the end of July, so it is the first snapshot we have of how Americans are faring during the pandemic since the $600 boost to unemployment was allowed to expire.

The results show the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on family economic situations across the country, and the extent to which so many people have been left without the help they need.

Nearly half of American adults lost household income, and millions still haven’t gotten benefits

Since the start of economic shutdowns in March, about 113 million adults (46 percent of the population) experienced a loss of employment income for themselves or a member of their household. That fell harder on lower income households: More than half (52 percent) of households making under $35,000 lost employment income, as opposed to 31 percent of households making more than $200,000. And, just as systemic racism in the health care system means that people of color are disproportionately likely to contract and face complications from COVID-19, people of color are also more likely to bear the economic brunt of the pandemic. More than half of people who described themselves as Black, Hispanic or Latino, or two or more races or other races lost income, and 47 percent of Asian adults lost income. White adults were less likely to lose income — only 41 percent did.

About 50 million adults have applied for unemployment benefits in less than six months, compared to about 37 million in 18 months during the Great Recession. What’s worse, almost 12 million people who applied for benefits have not received any. Poorer homes that were already living paycheck-to-paycheck were least likely to receive support: One third of households with incomes under $25,000 that applied for unemployment insurance haven’t received benefits. And, once again, people of color were less likely to receive the unemployment benefits they applied for: 30 percent of Black adults and 31 percent of adults of two or more races or other races who filed for unemployment insurance haven’t gotten their benefits. In comparison, 24 percent of Hispanic or Latino adults, 22 percent of white adults, and 20 percent of Asian adults also haven’t received any unemployment benefits.

Teleworking has been correlated with good health and high wealth

In addition to the mass layoffs and furloughs, the increase in telework has been the other major shift in the employment landscape: About 86 million adults now live in a home where at least one person shifted from in-person to telework.

There was a strong correlation between reports of good to excellent health and having shifted to working from home, with 47 percent of those in excellent health saying someone in their household made the switch to telework. In contrast, only 18 percent of people reporting poor health said that members of their household were able to make that same change.

This shift to telework has also proven beneficial primarily for those with higher incomes. Just 14 percent of homes making under $35,000 per year had an adult who was able to move at least partially to telework, compared to 72 percent for households bringing in more than $200,000.

Without additional support, more than half of the country is struggling to pay household expenses

All of this economic disruption, and the government’s inability to reach everyone with the aid they need, has left a lot people struggling to pay for everyday things. More than half of American adults — 134 million, or 56 percent of the population— said they had at least a little difficulty paying for usual household expenses in the last week. Homes with children were also much more likely to report spending difficulty: 64 percent compared to 50 percent of those without kids. Households that lost income were twice as likely to have used food stamps (SNAP) and more than three times as likely to have borrowed money from friends or family to cover usual spending needs in the last week.

All of this data points to one thing: People need help. Previous household pulse surveys, when Americans still had access to the $600 boost to unemployment benefits, already showed hardship increased significantly (inability to pay rent and food insecurity, particularly among families with children, were reaching dangerous proportions).

Now that the $600 boost has expired, there is no place in the country where a typical family can live on unemployment insurance alone. Tens of millions of people across the nation still need help getting through the coronavirus crisis. Congress must, at the very least, extend the $600 boost to unemployment insurance to quickly get substantial help to those who need it most in this crisis, and ensure that people are getting the benefits for which they’re eligible.




Why Are Only 4 Percent of SNAP Households Buying Groceries Online?

Joanne is a 68-year-old resident of Eugene, Oregon, who has worked as a fundraiser and scientist. Like almost 5 million American seniors, she counts on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to help pay the grocery bill. Historically, the program required people to shop in-store, but with COVID-19 that has changed with a lightning speed rollout of online grocery shopping nearly nationwide. Joanne says the new option features its share of complications despite its good intentions. That may be one reason why many eligible SNAP recipients are avoiding it.

SNAP provides a monthly supplement to low- and no-income residents to purchase groceries. In 2018, the average SNAP recipient received about $127 per month in benefits. The endeavor, operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is the largest federal nutrition program in the United States. Last year, SNAP fed 38 million Americans, the vast majority of whom are children, the elderly, and disabled adults.

USDA launched the online SNAP pilot in April 2019 in New York  — a state with more than 2.6 million residents enrolled in the federal nutrition safety net program — with three retailers: Amazon, Walmart, and ShopRite. Although rollout to other states wasn’t planned to begin until after the two-year test pilot, by March 2020, administrators faced pressure to fast-track implementation nationwide to allow SNAP recipients a safer, socially distanced way of shopping during the pandemic.

With its recent expansion to 44 states (including the District of Columbia), USDA says online SNAP is now accessible to more than 90 percent of users — or around 34 million people — who rely on the social safety net program each year. Another three states were approved to participate and are in the process of implementing the program for their eligible populations.

According to the federal agency, since online SNAP’s widespread implementation due to COVID-19, usership has increased. A spokesperson from USDA noted via written request that in March 2020, close to 35,000 SNAP households shopped online. By June, more than 800,000 households were participating. While that is a dramatic increase, it is only 4 percent of the households receiving SNAP.

Despite recognition of the program’s importance in the face of the pandemic, users, food security advocates, and legislators have raised flags. Experts like Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst at the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that though extensive research on the impact of online SNAP is yet to be conducted, anecdotally his organization has heard from a number of users about issues with learning about, accessing, and fully utilizing the online purchasing and delivery resource. Additionally, users must navigate order minimums and delivery fees as the USDA prohibits the use of SNAP funding for these costs.

Bolen points to the lack of information available on the program in communities with high SNAP eligibility as one factor for potentially low participation rates. Generally, when a state is added, a press release follows with pick-up by local media. However, the trickle down to users has been spotty depending on state-level implementation and the communication resources at their disposal.

In Massachusetts, food advocate and SNAP user Diane Sullivan said the state generally does a good job keeping in touch with participants about SNAP and has even implemented new ways of doing so during the pandemic, such as texting. However, with the struggle to keep up with a constant flux of changing policy and a growing participant list, Sullivan added that she didn’t recall receiving a text from the state about the online option when it became available in late May.

Amazon and Walmart are the only online shopping option in 38 of 44 states

In addition to finding out about online shopping, sometimes it’s hard to find the foods users want. Joanne referenced the hour and a half she recently spent compiling a cart of only 12 items eligible for the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards issued to participants. “Looking at Amazon,” Joanne said about one of the program’s two approved retailers in her state, “if you put ‘EBT’ in their search line, you have to go down seven rows before you find something that I consider whole food. Generally, what I find is that most of the things on here are processed food, which are not useful to me.”

Joanne said she prefers to spend her SNAP dollars — which amount to the minimum monthly benefit of $16 per month — in person at stores and farmers’ markets that not only sell whole foods more to her liking, but where she can benefit from EBT matching programs that double her benefits when they are spent at qualifying markets.

Amazon and Walmart currently dominate online SNAP as the only shopping option in 38 of the 44 states approved to participate. The CBPP’s Bolen explained that the lack of diversity in retailers may be discouraging uptake. “Having only those options might not mean a lot if you don’t live near a Walmart and you’ve never thought of Amazon as a place to buy your groceries,” he explained. For this reason, in July, U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced a bill in the Senate appealing for the expansion of retailers participating in the program.

Additionally, low-income Americans are more likely to lack the technological resources to access the internet. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that 29 percent of adults with household incomes below $30,000 per year do not own a smartphone, 44 percent do not have broadband internet, and 46 percent lack a computer. The Center notes that in nearly all households with incomes over $100,000 per year, these resources are consistently available.

From her lens on the ground, Sullivan said the online option is “on the right track” but it needs amending to ensure challenges facing recipients are addressed with their concerns in mind, not the bottom lines of the billion-dollar corporations currently benefitting from the economic stimulus.

“You have to engage people with lived experience in the process of designing these programs and implementing them,” Sullivan says. “We are on the ground and have information on when these systems work or when they don’t. We need to be brought into conversations around solutions in a more meaningful way.”



19 Volunteers Sharing an iPhone Are Trying to Support Incarcerated People Through COVID-19

Jessica Sylvia had a lot to look forward to this year. A transgender incarcerated person and advocate at Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state, she was excited about the sociology classes she was taking for her bachelor’s degree. Her mother was coming for a visit in the spring. And she’d finally gotten scheduled for an evaluation for gender-affirming surgery, something she’s wanted for 27 years.

Then COVID-19 happened, and everything was canceled.

Now, Sylvia’s more afraid of the impact of prolonged isolation than of contracting coronavirus. “I’m feeling disconnected. I’m feeling higher levels of depression and anxiety,” she said. “And I don’t feel that there’s anyone to listen to me or understand my needs.”

LGBTQ people, especially those who are low-income and from communities of color, are incarcerated at a disproportionately high rate. They’re also more vulnerable to sexual and physical violence, and mistreatment.

Sylvia said she regularly experiences transphobia: Her birth certificate was legally changed to reflect her female gender, yet she is housed at a male facility and said corrections officers call her by her birth name. It took her nearly 11 months to get permission to wear barrettes. She spends most of her time, COVID-19 or not, by herself. Department of Corrections communications director Janelle Guthrie did not respond to any of Sylvia’s direct claims, but did point to an updated policy on treatment of transgender prisoners.

Around the country, COVID-19 cases are rising in prisons and jails as incarcerated people continue to have little outside contact. “A worry that’s widespread among all sorts of organizations is that less access to the facility means less oversight and accountability,” said Biff Chaplow, director of the Portland-based organization Beyond These Walls.

The organization connects LGBTQ incarcerated people in Oregon and Washington with pen pals and facilitates programs like the Transgender Leadership Academy, believing “there’s a Marsha P. Johnson sitting in prison right now.” When they paused their programming at three facilities, Chaplow immediately pivoted to create a prepaid crisis line. The goal is to provide emotional support to incarcerated people in the Pacific Northwest no matter how they identify, and to advocate for them. Every two weeks Chaplow sends a report to a coalition of partner organizations, including ACLU of Oregon, working to keep incarcerated people safe.

Other COVID-19 crisis lines for incarcerated people exist, also limited to state or local areas, for instance in California and Texas. So in Portland, 19 trained community volunteers take turns answering one iPhone that gets passed around door-to-door in a Ziploc bag, complete with Lysol wipes. “A lot of prisoners are surprised that somebody is answering the phone because they’re used to contacting organizations and being totally ignored,” said Chaplow. Given the limitation of one phone, however, volunteers sometimes miss calls.

Chaplow first got the word out about the crisis line to incarcerated people in their network through snail mail. He expected a low interest and response rate, underestimating how much incarcerated people needed to talk. Opening the crisis line to all has uncovered widespread fear in response to how prisons and jails are addressing the pandemic.

Volunteers ask incarcerated people whether they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, what precautions their facility is taking, and if they need referrals. They can choose to remain anonymous, although most don’t. Asking “what’s your biggest concern?” has gotten people talking the most. Answers vary, but common themes have emerged: inability to physically distance, inconsistent mask wearing, and not being given information about the pandemic.

Out of 369 calls so far, some of which are from repeat callers, more than a quarter have been about not reporting COVID-19 symptoms out of fear of having to quarantine in solitary confinement. Solitary, or “the hole,” has a long legacy of being dehumanizing and causing psychological harm. It’s a familiar issue for Beyond These Walls. Often, solitary is used in the name of “safety” for LGBTQ incarcerated people who are subjected to violence and harassment by other prisoners. It’s also a way for staff to curtail sexual intimacy. A 2015 report by the prison abolitionist organization, Black and Pink, found that 85 percent of the 1,200 LGBTQ incarcerated people surveyed spent time in solitary — a stigmatizing practice for an already-stigmatized population at higher risk for mental health issues.

Carlee Roberts, a formerly incarcerated transgender activist and board member for Beyond These Walls, was sentenced as a teenager. Back then, she identified as a “loud, flamboyant queer” male and said solitary was a tactic to keep her in line.

“Not only was solitary used as a tool in the moment to punish me, but for a long time it worked my sense of self… that I was this horrible person who maybe should hide who they are as a person,” she said. “Even to this day, a lot of this stuff has stuck with me.”

Now, using solitary units to separate sick, incarcerated people during COVID-19 has become common practice, affecting more than LGBTQ incarcerated people. David Cloud, research director at Amend, a nonprofit that works to transform correctional culture, explained: “Part of the reason I think it’s used is the physical realities of having a vastly overcrowded, understaffed, overburdened, problematic prison system. These are corrections officials and public safety agencies performing the work of what should be a public health response.”

Amend created guidelines to help correctional facilities distinguish between solitary confinement, quarantine, and ethical medical isolation — the last of which includes sanitary conditions, access to amenities, contact with loved ones, and more. Cloud can’t say, however, how widely those suggestions have been implemented.

Just because we're not allowed inside doesn't mean we're not still watching.

James Moffatt, a 56-year-old incarcerated man at Santiam Correctional Institution, said he was one of the first to test positive for COVID-19 in Oregon’s prison system at the end of March. It started with a violent cough, then a fever and chills that shook him like a “washing machine on spin cycle.” After transferring to the infirmary at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and spending nearly three weeks there, the rest of his quarantine was spent in solitary confinement at maximum security prison Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP).

For Moffatt, who has underlying health conditions and experiences post-traumatic stress disorder, solitary was the worst part. His cell at OSP, he recalled, had fluorescent lights on most of the time and paint peeling off the walls. He slept on a concrete slab without a pillow. Drinking water came from a rusty faucet, and the smell of bleach made it hard to breathe. He had extremely limited access to media or the outside world — he wasn’t allowed to call family much, even though his mom is dying of lung cancer. Officers would yell at him to stop whining.

“Mentally, it was the most draining thing that I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “I kept saying to them, ‘I’m being punished for being sick.’ And they said, ‘Well, we realize you’re in DSU [disciplinary segregation unit], but you’re not being punished.’ And I said, ‘Well, if I’m being treated exactly the same as somebody that’s here on a disciplinary measure, then how is it not punishment?’”

Other incarcerated people said they underwent similar treatment. Oregon Department of Corrections communications manager Jennifer Black said they’re now “making every effort to provide activities to keep [incarcerated people] busy and basic comforts while keeping them safe.” The message that “medical quarantine is not punishment” is also displayed on Santiam’s television for all to see.

Moffatt, whose cough lingers, said he still has conversations with fellow incarcerated people who won’t report symptoms out of fear of going to the hole. He recently called the Beyond These Walls crisis line as a last-ditch effort to implement change and said sharing his story has been vital to his mental health. He was referred to the ACLU of Oregon but when faced with the choice of calling their legal numbers for nine cents per minute or buying toothpaste, his basic needs come first.

Criminal justice reform advocates agree that releasing incarcerated people is the most beneficial thing that can be done right now, although the challenge is balancing the urgency of the pandemic with a slow bureaucratic process.

While incarcerated people wait, the crisis line remains open.

“It’s a safety tool that’s saying to prison staff, ‘Hey, this is a way for folks to communicate with the outside world and let people know what’s going on,’” Roberts said. “Just because we’re not allowed inside doesn’t mean we’re not still watching.”



Florida Police Are Still Clearing Homeless Camps Despite CDC Guidance

Tears stream down Venettia Moultrie’s face as she recalls the day that she was evicted from her encampment in Gainesville, Florida. Her tent had space for up to twenty people and included a meditation room. About twenty others lived in tents nearby, and residents looked out for one another. In May, law enforcement arrived at the camp with bulldozers.

Officers from the Gainesville Police Department and Florida Department of Corrections announced over a loudspeaker that residents had six hours to vacate before demolition of the camp, in defiance of the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation to leave encampments intact during COVID-19. Florida’s state public health website provides no guidance on protecting people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19. Moultrie left with just one change of clothes.

When the 37-year-old set up camp in November of last year, she made strong connections with others who lived there, people at higher risk of contracting illnesses even before COVID-19. Since the eviction, she’s been worried about their safety.

“I lost my community, and it’s hard to know if my friends are alright,” Moultrie said. “I can’t pay to keep my phone on all the time and neither can they. I’m so angry at what happened […] I worry about my former neighbors who probably don’t have a place to stay now. At our camp, many of them had houseplants and pets, it was nice. We weren’t a typical community, but we were still a community.”

She holds a handwritten list with her lost friend’s phone numbers as we speak outside of her current homeless shelter, GRACE Marketplace. GRACE, formerly Gainesville Correctional Institution, was converted to a secular shelter in 2014. The shelter does ‘bed checks’ to make sure residents are in their rooms three times a night, which Moultrie is not used to after living freely in her camp.

“If you’re not there for bed checks two nights in a row, they kick you out,” Moultrie said, “You have to be on the street until you’re allowed back in.”

The camp was established in November of last year, after other options had failed. GRACE was at full capacity, so people started camping around the edges of the shelter’s property, which the campers and GRACE called “Dignity Village.” At its peak, the camp was home to around 220 people.

It does not make sense to evict anybody in the middle of a pandemic.

They camped there so they could use GRACE’s hygiene services and other resources. When the City of Gainesville ordered Dignity Village to shut down in January, Moultrie and about 50 others set up a new camp in the woods nearby, on Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) property. FDOC officers were upset by their presence, and asked Gainesville PD to threaten the campers with trespassing charges if they refused to leave.

Many camp members left between March and May, for fear of arrest. Moultrie and the last 20 residents were evicted on May 14th by the Gainesville PD and officers from the FDOC.

According to a 2019 survey, there are an estimated 752 homeless people in Gainesville’s Alachua County, 191 of whom were in shelters. GRACE currently has the ability to house 141 people. Their capacity has been reduced by 25 percent to reduce risk of spreading COVID-19. Those who can’t make it in are often waiting outside of the facility, hoping for a chance at a roof over their heads.

“I think the big question raised by this eviction is, if they can’t be in these places, then where can they be?” asked Kirsten Anderson, litigation director at Southern Legal Counsel. “GRACE doesn’t have enough space for everyone, and you’re going to see more situations like this because people have to exist somewhere. But it’s often criminalized.”

Shelter access is particularly important during the current pandemic.

CDC guidelines specifically state: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” This is a precautionary measure meant to control the spread of COVID-19.

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers,” the guidelines say. “This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

A Southern Legal Counsel press release says that the CDC also encourages federal aid from FEMA and the CARES Act to be used for emergency housing, but that Gainesville officials have not secured housing for the people they are displacing.

Requests for comment were made to the Gainesville PD and FDOC. Shelby Taylor, City of Gainesville Communications Director responded in their stead.

“The Gainesville Police Department has worked compassionately with representatives from GRACE Marketplace over several months to transition people experiencing homelessness into a more stable housing environment,” Taylor said. “But GPD serves to protect the rights and property of all property owners in the city of Gainesville. In May, at the request of FDOC officials, GPD was asked to notify people camping on the property that they were trespassing.”

Taylor went on to say that the eviction effort was coordinated with representatives at GRACE.

“It would be safe to say that the capacity of all the shelters in Gainesville is about half of the homeless population,” said GRACE Executive Director Jon DeCarmine. “For all of the narrative that people are safer at home, it does not make sense to evict anybody in the middle of a pandemic.”

However, DeCarmine confirmed that GRACE worked with Gainesville PD and FDOC to evict Moultrie and other campers from the nearby encampment, claiming that it was done out of fear for residents’ safety after an incident involving a drunk driver nearly hitting people in their tents.

DeCarmine said GRACE offered beds and services to those who were displaced. However, Moultrie said she was only offered a bed at GRACE after she went to the local university’s newspaper, The Alligator, about the eviction. She claimed her fellow campers did not get beds, and said she feels lonely and constantly under surveillance at GRACE.

She still hopes to see her friends again, but doesn’t know if it will ever happen. In the meantime, she’s working on forming a nonprofit that helps fellow homeless people by providing food, first aid equipment and the basic necessities of life. She recently got accepted to Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville to study Public Health. She’s going to stay at GRACE for as long as she can. While it’s not her ideal situation, she knows that it’s hard to survive without shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People aren’t asking for much,” Moultrie said. “Just three meals a day and suitable shelter. This city, any city, should provide that to everyone during a time like this.”