Young and Homeless During Covid-19

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ONE DAY AROUND MARCH 20, the day Bill de Blasio issued a shelter-in-place order for New York City, Lala Bradley headed to her usual spot at Wendy’s near Port Authority. She’d been going there almost every day with her boyfriend Corday Bradley and girlfriend Princess Archer since November of 2018, when they’d been evicted from an apartment in the Concourse Village neighborhood in the Bronx. (Lala, who is bisexual and polyamorous, prefers to use Corday’s last name.) Other homeless or unstably housed young adults hung out at Wendy’s too: it was one of the few places where workers let them “sit in there, and chill, and charge our phones until it is time for the place to close,” Lala said. That day, she had just gotten off the E train, where she and Corday often slept. Princess slept at her mother’s in Bed-Stuy, with her and Corday’s 2-year-old son Amyr.

The seating area in Wendy’s was closed. Lala had a distant memory of the Ebola virus from when she was in high school, and until that moment Covid had seemed similarly vague. But now, seeing the Wendy’s chairs stacked up in the corner, she said she was taken aback. “They want to close everything?” She said.

In a matter of days, most of the other stores and drop-in centers where Lala spent time closed indefinitely. BOOM!Health, a drop-in center in the Bronx she liked, stopped accepting clients. The doors were locked at the Times Square H&M. Soon, Princess’s mother, a Guyanese immigrant who worked as a home health aide and who none of them got along with, began to insist that Princess and Amyr stop leaving the apartment. Lala and Corday retreated to the 57th Street subway station, where they sat by a pair of blinking flatscreen kiosks and listened to a squawking announcement overhead that only essential workers should be riding the subway. An MTA employee handed Lala hand sanitizer in a miniature bottle.

Corday “knew how to handle himself out here,” he said of the streets—he had been homeless before, for the first time at 18, after he left the aunt’s house where he’d lived since 13, when his mother died—but the shutdown felt different, like “scavenging for survival.” “Usually it’s easy to find a place to sleep, to go into programs,” he said. “Now there’s really nowhere to wash your hands.” Even the public bathrooms in Port Authority were closed, which Corday had never seen before. He tried sneaking underneath the barricade, but guards soon started keeping people out.

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