Welcome to Las Vegas: My family searches for home in the midst of COVID-19

An African American woman stands in front of the Las Vegas sign, with a child running in the background
Photo courtesy of Aqueila M. Lewis.

Oakland Voices asked our correspondents about their experiences since being forced to wear face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have struggled living with homelessness since leaving East Oakland in 2016. By 2018, my husband lost his good, benefit-paying job so we couldn’t pay rent on our Richmond apartment.

It’s been nearly four months since my family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Before we made this ambitious move, we were staying with a family in Stockton, CA. Towards the end of our six month move-in agreement, Governor Newsom urged Californians to shelter-in-place (SIP) at home to minimize the spread of COVID-19; If people needed to leave their homes, they should frequently wash hands, apply hand sanitizer, and wear masks continuing to practice social-distancing at least six feet apart. 

A family friend made masks for my family. Although my two year-old doesn’t keep her mask on because she doesn’t fully understand that she needs to wear it to keep her safe from getting sick, we try to encourage her, and wear them every time we leave to go outside. 

I also have two N95 masks that I was given during the California 2018-2019 fire seasons. Due to the thicker material of the mask, even though I sweat more and struggle to breathe, I feel like I am more protected than when I wear the thin cloth mask. We also carry hand sanitizer and wash our hands often.

My family was aware of the global shutdown, but couldn’t really give it our full attention because we were facing just as much pressure and anxiety within the home. With SIP as a new “normal” reality, it was getting too crowded within the three bedroom home holding eight people including my family.

An image of a beautiful African American family (parents and young toddler girl) in front of a Las Vegas sign/marquee.
Family photo courtesy of Aqueila M. Lewis.

My husband also was injured at his job at Amazon, which was about 30 minutes from where we were staying. He applied for disability, and received a delayed response. We applied to various government-funded food, shelter, and housing programs in Stockton and the Bay Area, but because of COVID-19, many were temporarily closed, had fewer staff working, or weren’t willing to accommodate our needs because it wasn’t an immediate emergency. 

I also wasn’t getting enough sleep and experienced emotional anxiety after being reminded that we needed to move. So we decided to seek more affordable housing outside of California, and although we don’t have any family or close friends living here, Las Vegas seemed to match our immediate needs. 

I don’t see many people wearing masks here, but my family will continue to do so until we feel like there is a steady decline of cases of people getting the disease within the city and the United States.  

As a thriving survivor, I like the idea of wearing masks to hide my true feelings. It’s sort of like a disguise, a covering, or a shield to buffer against harmful/toxic people or environments. I always loved masquerade balls, but never really had the time to attend. I am grateful that wearing a mask really can protect me and my loved ones from catching a disease. I am also now more aware and alert, and have learned to appreciate the beauty and calming effect of a resilient nature. 

I don’t know much about Las Vegas history, culture, or know anyone living here. But on Mother’s Day, I performed on a Zoom open mic dedicated to mothers and met featured poets from Las Vegas, so I will start there. And one important goal that I have managed to fulfill: I am less anxious, I am finally getting better sleep, and slowly unpacking my boxes.

+ + +

The Pushouts
By Aqueila M. Lewis-Ross
The City that never sleeps is silent
Forced to quarantine like everyone else
No wonder the Major complains 
Dollars were always made here
But now she sleeps
It's hot as hell and hades is awaken
The homeless is visible
Letting flesh burn while laying on dirty streets
We rush to the nearest air conditioned stores hoping
to be the first to let masked
skin get soothed. 
We travelers migrated here
After being pushed out
Not sure if disease of the mind or body is to blame.
War has been here all along.
It slowly creeped in
And the rest of the world is now up to speed.
But in our hearts we hold on to hope
For safe-keeping
For healing
For clarity
For love
For home
Sometimes pushing is needed
So greatness can have a seat on the throne! 
Copyright, April 28, 2020
Author Profile

Aqueila M. Lewis-Ross is a multi-talented, award-winning Bay Area Native well-versed in singing, poetry/spoken word, and journalism. Aqueila has studied and performed throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and is a graduate of Napa Valley College and University of California, Berkeley. Her book of poetry, Stop Hurting and Dance, published by Pochino Press, is a collection of stories overcoming fear, oppression, gentrification, and police brutality; she honors what it means to live with resilience, love and prosperity. She holds the titles of Ms. Oakland Plus America 2014, SF Raw Performing Artist of the Year 2015, and was an Oakland Voices-KALW Community Journalist awardee in 2016 and Greater Bay Area Journalism Awardee in 2017.

1 Comment

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Looking back on 2020: My Family's Housing Journey and A Pandemic - Oakland Voices

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.