Hamilton Spectator: ‘You just go stir-crazy’: High-density living proves difficult for Hamiltonians

Posted May 11, 2020

The closest thing to human contact Laura Cattari has is the knock on her apartment door and the bag of food that sits and waits on the other side.
 
Since March 20, Cattari, who suffers from chronic pain and a compromised immune system, has been confined to her fourth-floor apartment in the Corktown neighbourhood, a one-bedroom unit spanning roughly 640 square feet with a balcony that boasts nothing but a view of a grey and decaying parking lot, these days lifeless and without cars.
 
For years, Cattari has been mindful of the potential health risks of shared spaces. Now, even as officials begin to ease COVID-19 social distancing measures, that conscientiousness has taken on a stricter form.
 
A walk down the stairs, a trip to the nearby grocer, a meet-up with friends at the park: they’ve become akin to a choice between fresh air and debilitating illness, freedom and risk of death.
 
“I’ve realized how much the virus is actually taking from my life,” Cattari said, speaking from the room she’s been stuck in for more than 50 days.
 
“The reality is, even when others are let out, I probably won’t be allowed out. And that’s scary. It’s scary knowing that other people will go back to normal, and I’m not sure if people will remember there’s other people like me who need help.”
 
Cattari is one of thousands of Hamiltonians who have spent quarantine in high-density areas, crammed and without the room to sprawl out in the streets and parks and backyards of relatively comfortable suburban life.
 
It’s a setting that presents challenges beyond seclusion and boredom and extend to the logistical conundrums of obtaining basic necessities, like food and mail.
 
Cattari, for one, thinks herself lucky to have connection into the community. A neighbour picks up her mail and drops it off. A friend comes around to deliver groceries. Colleagues call and check-in.
 
“But I do worry about people in the same sort of situation as me,” Cattari, 50, said. “Do people have the social network to get the things they need?”
 
“If you’re on low-income or social assistance, you were experiencing deep poverty long before this pandemic ever hit,” said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, where Cattari works part-time.
 
“A lot of people are forced to go to food banks to supple inadequate incomes, but that might not be possible for some people now because it puts their health at risk.”
 
There, too, is the risk of exposing others, like those with whom one shares a space.
 
Dayna Sparkes has been limited throughout the pandemic to an east-end housing complex where she lives with her four young children and husband. Each passing day is awash in a blur of unfamiliar home-schooling and restless isolation.
 
“At first, we didn’t even have the devices for the kids do schooling expect my one daughter’s iPad,” Sparkes said, adding her children’s school eventually shipped over the necessary technology.
 
“It’s been stressful and frustrating. The kids can’t go outside, and we have to stay in to look after them. All the days kind of mesh together … We don’t get a whole lot of time for ourselves.”
 
The moments Sparkes does have to herself are marred in the fear of what’s to come. She and her husband are without work, living off disability and social assistance checks, and they worry about paying rent — as do scores of others.
 
According to a survey conducted in recent weeks by ACORN Canada, an advocate for low-to-moderate income Canadians, one in three Hamilton residents say they don’t have enough money to pay their May rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
But food and financial insecurities represent just a fraction of the concerns associated with isolated living in low-income areas.
 
Health experts have warned that COVID-19 can disproportionately affect dense communities stricken with high poverty rates. In New York City, now the epicentre of the pandemic, boroughs with the highest number of cases are areas with the lowest median incomes.
 
“Density is really an enemy in a situation like this,” Dr. Steven Goodman, an epidemiologist at Stanford University, told the New York Times in late March. “(W)here people are interacting with more people all the time, that’s where it’s going to spread the fastest.”
 
Evidence of steadfast spread in dense spaces stokes fear for Craig Mair, a wheelchair user who lives in an eight-floor apartment building on Limeridge Road West.
 
Mair said a lack of distancing measures and maintenance in his complex has prompted a reluctance among residents to leave their units.
 
“The other day, I saw three people in the laundry room close together, no one wearing masks or gloves,” he said. “You just go stir-crazy.”
 
Mair said he and a neighbour have taken the liberty to vacuum their own floor and wipe down the walls because cleaning crews have yet to been sent by the building’s property managers.
 
“But that’s not our jobs as tenants,” Mair said. “If the government is telling us to stay home, we need the health and security to do that.”
 
 

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Article by Sebastian Bron for the Hamilton Spectator

 

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