When we reported on the numbers regarding COVID-19 a few weeks ago, it was clear that cases of the virus were markedly high on the west side of Cincinnati. West Price Hill, East Price Hill, and Westwood have experienced high incidents of confirmed cases of coronavirus. These numbers are glaring since these neighborhoods have been historically populated by Appalachian communities. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is distinctly aware that our Appalachian communities are intertwined with communities of all kinds in these neighborhoods. Few people are more aware of this than core member Nancy Laird who is working from Santa Maria in Lower Price Hill where she helps connect people with public assistance. I spoke to Nancy about the challenges she and others are facing at this time.
When asked about the most pressing issues right now, Nancy explained, “People have lost a lot of jobs. That is one of the main issues right now. And things like federal assistance are not reaching them.” There are numerous reasons why some of these people are not getting some of the federal assistance, and these things have to do with the particular nature of the Lower Price Hill Community where poverty and lack of job opportunities have left people out of the loop. Many people in Lower Price Hill work part-time jobs that left them unqualified for unemployment benefits.
The difficulties people in Lower Price Hill face right now are complicated. As Nancy told me, “Lower Price Hill is kind of a city unto itself. Things don’t work the same way here as they do in other neighborhoods around Cincinnati.” Many families in Lower Price Hill live in extended networks in which as many as nine people share an apartment. These families are dependent on other family members around the neighborhood who are also living in similar circumstances. These extended networks of support are tenuous as income and resources come from multiple sources. However, none of these sources are full-time conventional jobs. As the unemployment rate skyrockets, the hits are felt across multiple households and multiple families.
Getting people signed up for benefits of any kind is a growing concern. Since so many people in Lower Price and East Price Hill do not have computers, and access to public computers at the library has become impossible, just getting signed up for benefits is nearly impossible. Nancy has been working to help people sign up and file weekly claims. Yet, this process is slowed to a trickle since staff cuts and safety restrictions will not allow people into offices and community spaces. Still, Nancy Laird and others are getting people direct help.
Nancy told me, “we are getting food baskets out to people from donations from the Free Store Food Bank. But these are mostly boxed foods—mac and cheese, juice boxes, etc. It is not nutrition.” The folks at Santa Maria are getting snacks to kids through all this, but here again, the shutdowns are impacting their ability to do this. “We are working to file unemployment claims, but the staff is down to two people—me and one other person,” Nancy explained. Still, Nancy said they are finding ways to get information from people and get claims filed without people coming into the office.
I asked Nancy Laird about cases of COVID-19 and she told me that they know the numbers are up, but that they have not seen any cases of Lower Price Hill people getting the virus. East Price Hill is a different story. According to Nancy Laird, the service providers in East Price Hill have seen cases of COVID-19 increase. This is partially due to the fact that extended families are living together, and members of these families are still out working. These people are still in positions in which they have a high risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Nancy Laird is tied in with a network of community organizations. They keep working at things and are getting people the assistance they need, even if it has become more challenging. Talking to Nancy about all of this, she remains upbeat, and she is an artist when it comes to finding resources and connecting people to those resources. Nany also told me the Lower Price Hill Community Council is active and strong, and that is helping to keep people afloat. But the difficulties brought on by the pandemic remain acute in Lower Price Hill and East Price Hill.
The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition remains vigilant in both monitoring COVID-19 in the Greater Cincinnati area and in keeping up with the difficulties people face as the effects of the pandemic are felt by our communities. Core member Nancy Laird is one who is in the community connecting people with the services and resources that sustain them. As the COVID-10 crisis continues to impact everyone, the needs of the Appalachian communities and our neighbors is of paramount importance.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.