Homeless people across the U.S. talk about their struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Audio has been edited for length and clarity.
New York City
Ashley Belcher, 27, said she left home at 15 because of an unstable home life and has been homeless ever since. In late April, a homeless outreach group moved her and her fiancé, Wiaheed Jefferson, from the streets into a New York City hotel. Belcher says the hotel has given her a new lease on life.
Tiffany Cordaway, 47, was living in her friend’s car at the beginning of the pandemic, while working two essential jobs in health care. During the day, she quarantined and disinfected medical equipment, including some she said were used by COVID-positive patients. At night, she cared for an elderly couple.
New York City
Frank, 60, had been living on the New York City streets since 2015 when a homeless outreach group moved him into a hotel room in mid-April. A lifelong New Yorker, he has been homeless for the past eight years. Frank agreed to share his story only if his last name and identity were not revealed.
Sergio Gomes Macias
Sergio Macias, 65, is a field worker in Imperial County, California, who has been homeless since 2013. Since the pandemic began, he says, five of his co-workers have died of COVID-19. Still, he works wherever he can.
Donnie Settles, 27, says he had been homeless for two years when the pandemic hit. With no space at the local shelter, he stayed at hotels, a homeless encampment and on the streets. He is now working for a company that contracts with homeless providers to provide portable toilets and recently moved into a shared apartment.
Elisheyah M., 61, had been homeless for about a year when the pandemic started. She was couch-surfing prior to moving into a sanctioned outdoor encampment, located on a parking lot near downtown Phoenix. She hopes to move to a hotel room in the future.
Lawrence County, Pennsylvania
Allie Smith, 18, finished her senior year of high school without a stable home. Couch-surfing and shuttling between relatives in rural Pennsylvania, she is enrolling at Penn State in the fall and hopes to be the first of her family to go to college.
George Bacon, 63, was living with his 90-year-old mother when they both got sick with COVID-19. When his mother was discharged from the hospital, he needed to find somewhere else to live. With the help of the VA, he’s now in an apartment.
Paula S., 52, has been homeless for three years and has spent the majority of the pandemic moving around encampments. She agreed to share her story on condition that her last name not be used.
Jimmie Russ, 44, has been living in Talbot House, a homeless shelter in Central Florida, for just over a year and a half. He has worked full time in a warehouse during this time but says he hopes to find a career with more advancement opportunities.
This project was supported by the Pulitzer Center and produced by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Howard Center is an initiative of the Scripps Howard Foundation in honor of the late news industry executive and pioneer Roy W. Howard.
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