Looking back on 2020: My Family’s Housing Journey and A Pandemic

Editor’s Note: We asked our alumni and correspondents to reflect on 2020, and/or what to look forward to in 2021. Below, poet/writer Aqueila M. Lewis reflects on what a year 2020 has been for her family.

An image pf a smiling African American woman in front of a mic.
Aqueila M. Lewis.

The year 2020 will be the year that most will gladly try to forget. I’ve struggled to define the “true” meaning of hope due to the uncertainty of our circumstance. My family has been coping with homelessness for almost two years. In 2018, my husband lost his good benefit-paying job; two years later, COVID-19 made finding a job and affordable housing an impossible feat.

Despite the global pandemic, in late April, my husband and I decided to pack up all of our belongings and move to Las Vegas which seemed, according to our research, much more affordable than California housing.  Although we don’t have any family or close friends living here, Las Vegas seemed to match our immediate needs. 

Within the first few months, we realized that we were stuck living in an extended stay and paying very high rent for a one-bedroom that we couldn’t afford. After we were behind paying rent, my family received the Cares Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), which paid our landlord rent and late fees that were approximately $1,500.00 after we were behind paying rent. 

Although the Nevada governor just extended the CDC Housing Moratorium until March 31st, which provides rent protections for most residents, we continue to apply for additional rental assistance programs, affordable housing, shelter waitlists, and employment.

We were granted a family unit at a local shelter, but were denied entrance because of their vehicle requirements; the car must be registered, up-to-date, and have a license plate. Our car’s tags recently expired and the registration wasn’t up-to-date; an extra expense that we didn’t have money to pay. Due to the shelter’s requirements, we left and therefore lost our shelter placement. 

After failing a smog check because our car needed repairs, the estimated price for car repairs was approximately $1,500.00. Ironically, the extended stay has an agreement with a local towing company who almost daily puts a lime green tow sticker warning on our car.  The car is of great importance, as it’s our only source of income; without it, my husband can’t do contract work for Uber/Lyft.

Due to the stress, our health became a factor, I had very low energy, lost sleep, became anemic, vitamin D deficient, pre-diabetic, and suffered back and knee pain. I have been prescribed medicine, nutritionist, physical, and mental health therapy.

My husband has sickle cell, high blood pressure, and hypertension, and experiences depression due to job loss.

Our three-year-old is unfazed with our struggle, and is a very happy and curious little girl and growing quickly! 

I am thankful for some sort of escape/healing and have had my “pandemic-themed” poems published. I also participated in featured virtual readings and open mics on Zoom, and have enjoyed watching Facebook Live Sunday Morning Coffee Moment with Miranda Wilson as she encourages listeners to “Live Your Life Like Your Enjoy Your Coffee, One Sip at a Time.” I also participated in virtual daily/weekly prayer and bible study with Harry Williams aka OG Rev; I have dubbed him, “The People’s Minister” because he is always helping people in the community who may have the most need. 

Since Christmas Eve, we’ve raised over $7,000 towards payment for housing and car expenses, and have received donations from Bank of ComeUnity Reparations, a project of POORMagazine, East Oakland Collective, Dwayne Wiggins (Tony, Toni, Tone), and from community of activists donating their stimulus money to people facing housing evictions.

Although my family’s struggle at times has been unbearable, we continue to be attentive to our health and are applying to many services. Somehow, I have hope and know that my family will move into our dream house, unpack our boxes, have jobs with benefits. We are fully committed to change our circumstances one day at a time.

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Extended Stay

by Aqueila M. Lewis-Ross

"Welcome Back!" 
The marquee flashes 
Fireworks can be seen and heard at a distance 
But we can't join in the exuberant experience. 
We're still here 
Stuck without a home. 

This place isn't home 
But we fake smile 
In the morning while making breakfast 
Staring at white stove, oven, refrigerator, microwave, and cabinets. 
We even bought a white dish rack to match. 

To fit in claiming something as ours 
The walls too are white and I'm afraid to put up pictures of Van Gogh, Diego Rivera, Basquiat, and Frida Kahlo 
Fear of being scolded from difference 
Diversity is seen on the streets though 
Where I come from 
In the Homeless 
In those carrying signs so we remember 
A glimpse of identity. 

We fake smile at night 
And squish together us three in a Full size bed. 
Pretending we're architects 
Dreaming the right plans for our forever home 
Oh boy! 
The fireworks will be seen all over the world! 
There ain't nothing fake about that!


Stand UP and Tell Your Story: Ignite the Fire Within

by Aqueila M. Lewis-Ross
 
Have you ever thought about a fire’s birth?
See how it grows.
Sometimes fast.
Sometimes slow.
How long will it last?
As the flower grows
From our tears
We’ve been here before
We are Legions
Silent Survivors waiting for the chance to be heard.
When the wind blows, be the anchor
Breathe
Take Your Pauses
Begin again
Stand UP!
Your stories were meant to be told!


Copyright, August 12, 2020. This poem selected as SF Public Library’s poem of the day on October 4, 2020.

Lewis-Ross has had many poems published in 2020, including in the Benicia Herald here and here. Her poems “Can You See Us?” and “A Mama’s Song” were published on August 30, 2020 in Colossus Home: An Anthology of Life In and Out of Place, edited by Sara Biel and Karla Brundage as a fundraiser for Moms4Housing https://www.colossuspress.org. Other poems, “iRobot Again” and “Take Your Medicine This Time So You’ll Know What to Do Next Time,” were published on May 24, 2020 in The Po’ People’s Survival Guide thru COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the Virus of Poverty edited by Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia and Leroy F. Moore, Jr. https://www.poorpress.net.

About Aqueila M. Lewis-Ross

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. View all posts by Aqueila M. Lewis-Ross →

One Comment

  1. Lisa Dettmer

    thanks for sharing Aquiela, i didn’t know you were going through all of that. will try and donate soon – lisa

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