Fulton County has received more than 10,000 new eviction cases since the coronavirus outbreak began.
In that number are the stories of this pandemic. People who have dealt with unemployment or became sick with the coronavirus.
In Atlanta, that was the experience of one health care worker named Ray. Then, she fell behind on rent.
She and her two sons all live in the same northwest Atlanta apartment complex. It’s one of those newer, modern-looking buildings near Howell Mill Road.
Her younger son stays with her. He’s just finishing high school. Her older son rents a different apartment upstairs. She says he moved there to be near her.
“We’re really close. I’m a single mom. And it’s always just been me and the boys. Um, so we’re like this,” she says as she crosses her fingers.
Her sons are why Ray asked to keep her full name private. She says she wants to protect their privacy. They’ve been through a lot together.
“Most single moms could agree, it’s a roller coaster. Sometimes you up, sometimes you down,” she says. “But you just work through it.”
She says that’s what she’s doing now.
She became a traveling nurse before the pandemic started. She’d fill in around the country wherever hospitals were short-staffed. The contracts could cover her family’s needs.
In the spring, she got a call to work in the Northeast.
“This is when COVID was bad,” she says. “So I said, ‘OK, this is something new to all of us. But I need to work.’ So I took the assignment.”
She treated COVID-19 patients for a month in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Hospitals were still figuring out the virus, she says. It was scary.
One day, on the job, she developed a bad cough. She had to go to the ER herself.
“They did the X-ray. They said, ‘She’s staying with us. She has everything that we’ve been seeing here. She has it,’” she says.
In the hospital, her coronavirus case became serious. At one point, she was afraid to die.
“I mean, my oxygen was really low,” she says. “It was bad.”
It was two weeks before Ray improved enough to leave. After that, she still had to quarantine in New York.
By the time she returned home, she’d been without income for more than a month. The nursing company paid her hospital stay but not sick leave.
Back in Atlanta, she had trouble finding more work.
“I had added my travel onto my resume. And I’m like, well, I’ve worked with COVID. So this should be a good thing for these hospitals here in Georgia,” she says. “But nothing.”
It was late summer by then and COVID-19 cases were declining.
She never heard back about unemployment. She began to fall behind on bills. Her older son upstairs tried to help. But he’d also lost work during the pandemic. Soon, he fell behind, too.
Within a couple months, they both got eviction notices.
Ray doesn’t get hung up on the irony that after she helped COVID-19 patients, no one seems to be helping her family. She says she didn’t create the system.
Still, she wants people to know what can happen to families like hers in this system. She says she budgets. She’s not rich.
“I’m pretty sure I’m like a lot of parents. You want your kids to live in a decent environment where they’re going to be safe. And you work hard to do it,” she says.
She says for families like hers, it may only take one thing to disrupt all that work.
“In my situation, that one thing this time was COVID,” she says. “It sent everything downhill.”
It’s well into the fall and coronavirus cases have begun climbing again.
Ray’s learned that traveling health-care companies could hire soon. Even after what she’s been through, she doesn’t hesitate about taking another call.
“If something comes up and I’m in a position where I can go out and make money working with our pandemic, with COVID to help take care of my family, would I do it?” she asks.
“Yes, I would. Yes, I would.”
Within a couple weeks, Ray does accept an assignment. She’s now working in a make-shift hospital in Rhode Island.
She’s still not sure if the income she’s getting is enough to make up her family’s past-due rent. A federal eviction moratorium protects them until, at least, Dec. 31.
After that, it’s possible that she and her two sons will have to move.