covid diary

A Family of Eight, Sheltering in 900 Square Feet

Photo: Courtesy of the Davis family

Since the middle of March, four generations of Shawn Davis’s family have been quarantining together in her apartment in Hunts Point, the Bronx. There are six people living full time in the three-bedroom apartment, and Davis’s two young grandchildren come over to be watched during the day. It makes for tight quarters, especially since Davis’s husband and son were laid off.

Shawn Davis: I’m sheltering with my 80-year-old mother and my 20-year-old daughter and her boyfriend—they’re both college students. There’s my 32-year-old son and my husband, who’s 46. I’m 55, and normally I love having my house packed. But I can tell you that being trapped in with these people … I’m like, You all gotta get the hell out of my house! My husband was working at a food warehouse up here in Hunts Point for about four years. Before we got to the apex [of the virus], they made them come to work. My mom is 80, and I have lupus. We worried about him, and us. You’re coming back from the front lines to bring it into my house? He’d come home from work and take everything off outside in the hallway, shoes and everything, then put it in a bag. Then, after about a week and a half, they said, “You know what? We’re just going to let people go.” So they laid them all off. My son is a commercial plumber, and his job site in Staten Island was shut down.

Shane Campos [Shawn’s son]: I always wanted to take a vacation, and I never could take one. At first, I was like, Maybe this is my vacation, just without pay. But being home is driving me crazy.

Lauren Ramos [Shawn’s daughter]: The goal is simple: try not to go insane. I go to City College, and I’m an intern for the City, so Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m in my bedroom, working online, and Monday, Wednesday, Sunday, I do schoolwork. I was studying psychology, but after seeing how understaffed hospitals are, I’m going to transfer to nursing. I just want to help.

Shawn: We’ll get up in the morning, and first thing I do is disinfect. My son gets up, and we’ll chat at the dining-room table. Everybody has a cup of coffee. I’m making the breakfast, and I make it so it’ll stretch: definitely a lot of oatmeal or scrambled eggs and farina. We’re trying to get through to unemployment — my son’s been trying for four weeks, and my husband’s been trying, and nobody’s gotten a check. I had to buy a landline phone just so we can press the redial button.

Lauren: Thankfully, I still have my internship. But I really miss talking to people who have the same college trouble, those random conversations: “I failed a test. You failed a test.”

Shawn: My oldest daughter lives in the building next to me, and she’ll call me up and say, “Bathe them in Lysol — do what you want — just come get your grandkids!” So they’ll come over, and we’ll play Scrabble or Life. My grandson gets to play the PS4 after his school and chores are done, but only for two hours: I’m trying to keep the electricity bill down. My daughter and I do our workout together on our bikes. And everybody sits on their phone trying to look for work. Right now, they’re only hiring temp people who are replacing the COVID people who are out. When these people come back from their furlough, they’re going to throw you out.

Shane: My grandmother, I think she’s disappointed. Because you say to yourself, This is America. America should be prepared for something like this. She saw WWII, Vietnam, stuff like that. For her, I’m pretty sure it’s a sense that the world’s coming to an end.

Lauren: Sometimes in the morning, me and my brother and my grandma will have a debate about politics, whatever’s on the news. Funny enough, I enjoy those moments because we’re all into something together. My brother is like, “Oh, Cuomo took too long. He’s just doing things because he doesn’t want to get bashed.” My grandma’s like, “Cuomo, that’s my man!” But Trump — my grandma hates Trump; my brother hates Trump; I hate Trump. That’s not a debate.

Shawn: The personalities in the house, it’s getting to be a little chaotic. I’m talking to you in the shower. Listen, I raised three kids in the one-bedroom I used to live in — I know what it’s like to be in an even tighter space. But even so, right now, I wish I would have bought a tiny little house up in White Plains.

Lauren: We’re about three weeks in. I can tell we’re getting antsy. My boyfriend and I didn’t used to cook that much, but we’re trying to learn, to take advantage of saving money. We’ve mastered tacos, but we’re still trying to learn baked ziti.

Shawn: All I see is dollar signs when somebody’s in the kitchen. I get $62 of food stamps a month. That is nothing. What the hell can I do with $62 a month? My daughter’s always in the kitchen cooking, and I’m like, “Guys, you’ve got to stretch the essentials.” You have a loaf of bread here in this part of the Bronx that’s $3, where it used to be $1.89. I paid last month’s rent, but this month’s going to be a little iffy. They’re going to get half, maybe, if they’re lucky. Not to mention our utility bills. How can anybody chip in if they’re all waiting for unemployment to come through? The brunt of it comes from my disability check and my mom’s Social Security.

Shane: I think about what I’m going to do when this is all over. The new normal that they’re talking about is just going to be really bad for people like us. You’re either poor or you’re rich. I only make $50,000 a year. In New York, that is still not enough to survive. I was just getting above water. I don’t have schooling like a lot of people I know. I have my GED and my hands and my brain.

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Eight People, Sheltering in 900 Square Feet