The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy

The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy

In a coronavirus relief law passed last month, Congress provided a temporary moratorium on some evictions and $4 billion to help shelter the homeless.

Since infection rates among children appear to be low, the pandemic is often described as a blight that is sparing the young. But the social risks inherent in crowded housing may suggest the opposite. Research on the 2008 recession found evidence that rising foreclosures led to increased child abuse. And with schools closed, there is less monitoring.

“People have been saying, ‘Oh, coronavirus doesn’t affect kids — the kids are all right,’” said Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus on Children, an advocacy group. “They’re so not. They’re at greater risk of sexual assault, suicide, substance abuse, hunger — every aspect of children’s lives is being impacted.”

For Mr. Stokes, the Kutztown student, the pandemic has intensified feelings of trauma he was struggling to overcome. After a stint of foster care at age 3, he attended nine schools in 12 years, while suffering from an anxiety disorder. Estranged from his mother at 17, he spent half his senior year of high school living in a friend’s car.

Despite it all, in January he made it to a four-year college, a source not only of pride but stable housing. “I felt, ‘I don’t have rely on anybody — I got a dorm, I got a 24/7 dining hall, I’m good,’” he said. With hopes of becoming a marriage and family therapist, he chose his first research topic: “How does childhood trauma affect educational success?”

Within two months, he was homeless again.

A high school friend offered him a place at her mother’s house, though space is so limited he shares a room with her and her toddler. (They get the mattress; he gets the floor.) With no closet or dresser, he piles his clothes in a trash bag in the corner — an image of dispossession he finds especially upsetting. The 11 occupants, who share two toilets and one shower, include his friend’s siblings and cousin and their girlfriends.

“Everybody’s coming and going out of the house. No one washes their hands,” he said. “I’m worried they could just give anybody the virus.”

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