The diameter of a covid-19 virus is said to be 1/100th of the diameter of a single human hair. So the small holes in the weave of cheaper face masks can allow the virus to enter and infect the wearer. Because of those holes, the victim can develop fever, a dry cough, extreme fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, inability to speak and then life threatening, breathing difficulties.
But there are other holes through which the covid passes to cause other severe symptoms. These are the holes in people’s resources and income, experienced by our most vulnerable people during times of crisis. These are severe symptoms of the pandemic that are caused as much by the covid as the symptom of impaired breathing. Those are the holes that our Ministry tries to fill and the symptoms we try to treat.
The Methodist Justice Ministry is in its 15th year of operation. Our four staff lawyers obtain free legal protections in the family courts for indigent victims of family violence and child abuse. And we provide free licensed professional counseling and emergency financial assistance to enable trapped victims to escape from old lives of violence and fear into new lives of peace and hope.
Since March 14, 2020, when covid hit and the quarantine started, we have received more than 300 new requests for legal and financial help — requests that we recognize as social symptoms of the virus just as surely as a pulmonologist recognizes shortness of breath as its physical symptom. These 300 new requests are in addition to the requests for help we have received from former and present clients. Since mid-March, we have paid out almost $40,000 for rent, utilities, and other critical necessities.
Put yourself in the place of a 40-year-old woman with a husband, five children between the ages of 3 and 11, and your 70-year-old mother living in your home.
Your husband worked as a cook making $11 an hour with no tips in a restaurant and bar before the covid hit. The restaurant has been closed since mid-March. It is slowly reopening but your husband has not been invited back. His employer deducted for unemployment insurance from his pay but paid none of it to the government, so his application for unemployment is still in process. He has brought home no income for three months.
You worked before the covid hit with a cleaning crew in a downtown hotel for $10 an hour. But occupancy in the hotel is down and you have been furloughed. You are receiving unemployment, but it is far from enough for your family’s needs.
You and your husband are buying your family home of 10 years on an illegal “rent to buy contract,” and you worry that you will be unable to pay the rent, your family will be evicted and you will lose the so-called principle you have paid. One of your two older cars has been repossessed because you could not make the payments. You both worry about the electricity being shut off. You are eligible for Medicaid, but you and your family are afraid to go for fear of being exposed to covid at a doctor’s office. There is a history of breast cancer in your family, but you have been too afraid to appear for your mammograms. Your husband has an inguinal hernia but is foregoing surgery until the pandemic is over. You both worry that your mother will become ill with the covid, and that when a vaccine is developed, you will not be among the people who will be chosen to receive it.
Your children have been out of school since mid-March, but you and your husband lack the money to obtain the laptop or tablet for them to attend on-line. If the children’s schools do not reopen in the coming Fall, you worry that they will not advance and that there will be no affordable childcare.
You try to clean some houses in your neighborhood, working with a friend, but can make at most $100 a week. You push your husband daily to find work, any work, but he says that unemployment is so high and the fear of covid so great that there are not any jobs to find for a man like him.
Your husband feels emasculated and scared. You feel depressed and scared. Your children feel anxious and scared. Your mother hides in her room and says she is going to stay with your sister in Houston. But then who will take care of the children if you and your husband find work? You cannot afford childcare.
So your husband drinks a lot of beer as anesthesia. He escapes to his male friends’ houses at night and drinks with them to get away from the arguments that come because he drinks up money the family does not have. And he places the family at risk he will bring the covid home. He abandons you at home to comfort the children and worry.
One night be comes home drunk after 3:00 am. You have not been able to sleep that night and for many nights. You are furious. You accuse him of infidelity. He calls you a b…h and a nag. You call him worthless and a failure. You are screaming at each other, and your children and mother can hear every word. He suddenly hits you in the face with his fist. He drags you into your bedroom by your hair as you are screaming and kicking at him. Your 11-year-old son tries to rescue you, jumping on his father’s back, but your husband slings him across the room, breaking your son’s wrist.
You take your son to the ER. He tells the nurse the truth about his injury and about your swollen and bruised face. The nurse rightly calls the police and CPS. The police try to take a statement from you, but you are afraid to tell the truth and put your husband in jail. The officer treats you with contempt for your dishonesty and you feel ashamed. CPS tells you that you must not allow your husband back into the home. The CPS worker refers you to the Methodist Justice Ministry to file for a protective order, a divorce, and child support. You feel pressured to follow through on all this, or CPS may place the children in foster care. But how can you and your children survive without your husband when jobs come back? Is there no chance of forgiveness and reconciliation? He had never done anything like this before. Still, he crossed a wide, deep line. And your son is afraid of him. You have some hard decisions to make.
This is the kind of plight that has been brought to us at the Justice Ministry almost daily since the covid started getting through the holes. We try to help with protective lawsuits. And we also try to help with free professional counseling, emergency financial help, and making hard decisions.
Symptoms of covid for everyone? Fever, a dry cough, extreme fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, inability to speak and then, life threatening, breathing difficulties for sure.
Symptoms for the most vulnerable? Fear of unemployment and underemployment, of seeking needed medical care, loss of home, loss of transportation, lack of affordable childcare, all leading to family conflict, alcohol and drug abuse, family violence and child abuse. Fear, stress, and anger stronger than human frailty.
Rev. Brooks Harrington
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Brooks Harrington is the founder and legal director of the Methodist Justice Ministry, owned by First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. He is an attorney and an ordained United Methodist minister.