With COVID Diaries, The Catalyst is putting a face on the novel coronavirus, telling the individual stories of Tampa Bay residents who struggle, or have struggled, with COVID-19 first-hand. If that’s you, or someone you know, we encourage you to contact us at Spark@stpetecatalyst.com.
After some of the toughest years of her life, things were finally starting to look up for Jolaine Greaux.
She’d gotten a job, which she saw as a crucial first step toward finding stable housing and rebuilding her life, and she was on track to receive her bachelor’s degree from St. Petersburg College in December. It had been two years and five months since she’d left her 10-year job at Walmart due to health reasons, and she’d essentially been homeless since then. She’d stayed with her sister for awhile, and when that didn’t work out, she drifted from hotel to hotel, longing for a home of her own. Now, after finally finding work, her dream was nearly within reach.
Then COVID-19 changed everything.
“I was supposed to start my new job this week,” said the 48-year-old St. Petersburg resident. “I couldn’t start because of COVID.”
Greaux isn’t exactly sure where she contracted the virus, but her story of her life over the past six weeks offers plenty of clues. In early June, she reached out to a social service agency to help her find a place to stay. Her money was dwindling, she’d been unable to get disability benefits and she was still languishing on the waitlist for affordable housing in St. Pete, Tampa and her home country of the US Virgin Islands. The agency referred her to a local shelter and she began staying there. She had a roof over her head, but the conditions were alarming.
“People were going out to get tested,” Greaux remembered. “Everyone was coughing.”
Greaux was dismayed by what she felt were unsafe conditions and she didn’t think that communal items were being properly sanitized. Social distancing measures were enforced while waiting in line for food, she said, but once at the table, everyone sat close together. She’d heard rumors that some of the staff had tested positive for COVID, and she started feeling sick herself, with a sore throat, stomach pain and a fever.
On June 18, Greaux was tested at Community Health Centers of Pinellas. Four days passed with no word on her results. She logged into the health portal. No information there, either. Then she received a phone call from the Department of Health telling her she was positive. Although they called her by the wrong name, the news struck her deeply.
“I nearly fainted when they told me that,” she recalled, confused over why she was getting a call from the Department of Health rather than the place she’d been tested. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
During that same call, or maybe one shortly after (“everything was going so fast at that point”), she was told she was being moved to a hotel because she needed to quarantine for two weeks. Someone from the social services agency that had been assisting her with housing arrived later that day to pick her up and take her to the hotel. She wasn’t the only passenger – another woman who was COVID-positive was also in the car.
Her room was terrible, she said. The bathroom wasn’t working. The phone was out of order. The food they provided to her included oranges and bananas that were starting to rot. And she kept logging into the Community Health Center portal to see if her results were there. She didn’t doubt her diagnosis, but she still wanted to see a confirmation.
Four days later, Greaux said she was told she had to leave the hotel, and she felt she was being “pitched out on the street like a dog.” She pleaded with her caseworker not to send her back to a shelter, and he was able to find her a discounted rate at another hotel. There was no microwave to heat up food and no refrigerator to store her medication. She used the little money she had left to buy chicken and soda, although she didn’t have much of an appetite. She kept logging onto the Community Health Center portal. Still nothing.
On July 7, someone from the Community Health Center called Greaux to say that her results still hadn’t arrived from Quest Diagnostics, and her vocational rehabilitation counselor contacted her to say she needed results to start her new job. The person from the Community Health Center recommended that she go to Tampa General Hospital to get tested again. Her niece drove her because she couldn’t afford the cab ride. Later that night, someone from TGH called to give her her results. They were positive.
And so the quarantine clock started over again. Greaux realized she wouldn’t be able to start work, and now she had to find another place to stay. Her niece paid for a week at an extended stay hotel in Clearwater, but that will only get her to July 15. In the meantime, she’s scrambling to piece together any help she can find, but keeps hitting brick walls and making phone calls that go unanswered. She goes on Facebook to watch people preaching the gospel, and prays to God she can get a roof over her head.
“I’m running out of time and I need somewhere to live,” she said. “Everyone is more worried about how I’m feeling than getting me help.”
Greaux said she’s disappointed that she’s not getting more guidance from the people who are supposed to help her. Not that she’s looking for charity. She’s worked hard all her life, sometimes holding down two jobs at once. All she wants is to work and have a place to live.
“I have no one to tell me that they’re here for me,” she said tearfully. “I’m so tired. It’s like I’m in this world by myself.”