Here is a staff perspective on what it is like to work on the front lines of the agency’s COVID-19 response efforts. This essay provides a personal viewpoint while also exemplifying CSA’s mission in action and our team’s commitment to carrying out our mission. The author is Simone Berkowitz, Principal Analyst at CSA. She lives in Mountain View with her family.
Now more than ever, I exist between two worlds. Let’s call them World A and World B. World A is the world in which concerned parents who look like me post on social media about how far behind their children are falling because our school district cannot make distance learning or e-learning or whatever they are calling it happen.
World B is the world in which I am trying to help a homeless pregnant diabetic get off the streets because she is terrified of contracting COVID-19 and what that would mean for her unborn child. World A: friends are suddenly working from home while supervising their children’s schooling and trying not to murder their spouses who have filled all available storage with toilet paper (or candy, ahem).
World B: there are 600 and then 800 and then 1,100 and now 1,400 people on the list to receive help paying their April rent. It is mid-April, and we are still working on these current applications. What will happen in May? World B people don’t have the money to stock up on anything. World A: my mother plotting secret visits to her hairdresser to touch up her highlights and cover her gray hair. World B: hairdressers, housekeepers and hotel staff calling and wondering how they will make up 1, 2, 3 or more months of lost income.
I live in Santa Clara County, where the median income for a family of 4 is $126,606. It is a county full of tech workers and the people who support their lifestyles. Many not directly employed in tech were already struggling to make ends meet even before COVID-19 – the number of homeless people in my city increased by 46% over the last 2 years. The main road leading to the tech companies is lined with RVs (many lacking in fresh water) housing workers who cannot afford the more than $3,000 average monthly rent for even a one-bedroom apartment.
We are a tech family – my husband and I met 20 years ago as undergraduates at MIT. After a career in World A, I have spent the last 3 years working at CSA helping people who occupy World B. CSA offers a food pantry, housing case management, senior services, and more. In this new reality, my worlds collide every day. Parents of my children’s friends come in to request food. An acquaintance can no longer pay her housekeeper, and the housekeeper calls for help with rent unaware that I know her former employer. I open an email from someone seeking rental assistance and realize I know her professionally. It is only a matter of time until I walk into work and see a neighbor or a friend in a desperate situation.
How did I get to World A? Did I work hard? Sure. Did I make good choices? Definitely. Was I born into the right family? If you’ve met my parents, you may find this debatable (and funny), but for these purposes, yes. Did I marry well? Yes. Is it fair? No. It’s not fair. So I do what I can to help others and teach my children to do so as well.
When I get home from a long day in World B and find my kids fighting over some World A nonsense like how much time they can spend on their tablets, it’s hard. I want to tell them about the homeless person with respiratory issues struggling to get temporary housing to whom I just handed a bag of food. And sometimes I do tell them. But they’re 5 and 8 and they don’t really get it. I hope that one day they understand and do what they can to help. Until then, I’ll try my best not to get frustrated by things that seem so minor to me, but are so major to them at a time when their worlds have shrunk to the size of our house.
I am writing this as I sit in a parking lot wearing a mask (not an N-95 because we ran out of those) checking people in for a food distribution. California in April is supposed to be warmer than this, but there is a breeze that chills the people waiting for food and me and disturbs the papers I have to pass out with updates to our services. There are all kinds of people here: an older couple who immigrated from Russia decades ago and don’t speak English, a Spanish speaker who is unable to write her name and lives in a small apartment with 7 other people, an Asian man around my age with an easy smile who recently lost his restaurant job. During a slow moment after the initial rush of people, someone from World A rides up on a bicycle and hands me a $1,000 check. As I sanitize my hands, I think about how I wish we could use it to build a bridge between the two worlds.
Thank you, Simone. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for picking up the increased load when so many of us are struggling to make our world (whether A or B) stay afloat. Hugs.
Thank you for taking the time to share this experience with everyone. It has a kindness that comes through your words. I am an ESSENTIAL Worker & have been a widow for over 9 years. It has been a lot harder at times ( & quieter, than even I am comfortable with), but – through it all, I continue to respect other people’s choices and space equally as I do my own. Giving back to our communities has many faces and a wide variety of behind the scenes action. These courageous human beings need our support not ridicule. I am extremely grateful to you for your post, your hard work and honesty in expressing the reality of the serious needs in our own neighborhoods. I wish all of my neighbors good health, a job to go back to when its time for them, and peace in the interim. Nobody can really understand what situation(s) we all are in within our own private walls— it’s too much information ( but it is worthy of respecting the fact that we do not know), and must try harder to still be kind, giving, and caring in these troubled times for all of our sakes. It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, it’s been a while since I’ve felt this kind of hope on the horizon. I worry about those who will not get their daily needs met (and deep love) to anyone that has stepped-up to the plate in this Pandemic to help another in any capacity. Stay calm, help wherever you can & be generous whenever & wherever you can equally.
Healthy Saturday & My heart is filled with compassion today for the blessed soul that took the time to share this post! Thank you so very much! Go enjoy the fresh air we have and be kind to one another.