Families on brink of homelessness amid COVID-19 hope for lifeline from Wake County

Joel Brown Image
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Families on brink of homelessness amid COVID-19 hope for lifeline from Wake County
Families on brink of homelessness hope for lifeline from Wake County

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been a little less than six months since we did our first story about Wake Prevent, a new Wake County program to help families living on the brink of homelessness.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse - especially for people like Star Johnson and her two son who may be days, even hours, away from living on the streets.


Johnson spoke to ABC11 Tuesday in the parking lot of a budget hotel in northeast Raleigh where she and her children debate what to do next.

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"As soon as I got my job I was pretty excited to be able to finally move out of this hotel," Johnson said.

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But her plan to move out of the hotel they've been living in for the last five weeks and pay for a new apartment using her federal tax refund was thrown for a loop by COVID-19.

Her new job as a sous chef at a Raleigh restaurant was first delayed by a health episode triggered by her battle with lupus. And when she recovered two weeks later, the pandemic had taken hold.

"As soon as COVID-19 happened, we just lost our jobs; the restaurant shut down; and the hotel just ate up our tax refund," Johnson said.

Johnson has seen the news about brand new funding to expand Wake Prevent. Starting this week, families currently living in hotels, who've lost income due to COVID-19, were encouraged to apply for up to 12 weeks of assistance to keep them housed. But there's a stipulation about where your children go to school.

While Johnson's been living in Wake County for the past two months, her sons, 13-year old Anthony and 14-year old Angelo, who is on the autism spectrum, are still technically enrolled in Harnett County schools.

"And (Wake Prevent) let me know that if (my children) weren't in Wake County schools that it was a possibility that they weren't gonna be able to help me," Johnson said.

ABC11 spoke to a representative from Wake Prevent Tuesday night about Johnson's situation to ask if the rules were subject to change. The county said it is approaching every family on a "case-by-case basis" and examining families "individually" and "holistically."

Back at the hotel, Johnson's limited cash is running out. She's holding out hope the crisis doesn't leave her and her boys on the street.

"We need help now," she said. "Maybe (the county) can issue people like me some type of cash aid where we can have help now, ask questions later."

Wake Prevent began taking applications Monday for the new COVD-19 assistance. It said it already received hundreds of calls and reps are trying to get back to applicants within 72 hours.

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