In normal time, Darline Franklin would earn $12 an hour during the day as a security guard at Allied Universal and she had a part-time job at night as a bathroom attendant at a club where tips were her remuneration. She had no difficulty paying her bills. “Now I’m unable to work and don’t know how I’m going to pay those bills,” said 51-year-old Franklin who resides in Fort Lauderdale.
Ernst Virgile made a living as a customer service agent while his wife. Djeunese, worked as a cashier at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. They too have been laid off. “We weren’t able to file for unemployment until the 26th, and only Dieunese’s application went through due to the site crashing,” said Virgile. “It wasn’t until the site was running properly again that he was able to file.”
They received less than $800 on April 28 which he knows will not last for long. “It has been a very difficult time for us, with three kids and bills to pay,” said Virgile who is trying to maintain a positive attitude.
But these are not normal times for Haitians in South Florida as hotels, bars, restaurants and many other companies closed down because of COVID-19.
“Many Haitians were sent home temporarily, but are now being told that they will not be able to return. There was a heavy concentration of Haitians in the hotel and hospitality management industries, most have been closed either temporarily or for good resulting in thousands being unemployed,” said Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of Family of Action Network Movement (FANM).
Compounding the problem is that Haitiansface other issues that adversely impact their ability to utilize available resources. Many are unable to take advantage of drive through food distribution and mobile testing centers because they do not drive nor own a car.
“Many of our compatriots earn minimum wage, live paycheck to paycheck and support their family in Haiti,” said Farah Larrieux, Director of THELAR Management Group and Haitian community activist. This means that not only their lives in the United States are affected but their families in Haiti are also at risk.
One such example is Ernst Virgile who supports two brothers and two sisters in Haiti. Given his loss of income, he has not been able to send them money. He is not only burdened with how they will withstand this lack of financial support but also how they will be impacted by COVID-19. “I’m worried because I know they are in need,” Virgile said.
In addition, many Haitians are unable to access services because they don’t read or speak English well and don’t have a computer or internet connection. Others are simply not technologically savvy.
Though in South Florida, many try to have official documents and information translated into Haitian Krèyol, there is the issue of finding a way to disseminate the resources and information throughout the Haitian community.
“Many programs and resources catering to Haitians tend to be focused in the neighborhood of Little Haiti,” said Farah Larrieux. Haitians in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade don’t feel counted and unfortunately many organizations don’t have the resources or ability to reach out to the larger population of Haitians making up South Florida,” Larrieux said.
Another major issue is education. A majority of Haitian children are more vulnerable because many still do not have laptops or internet access. Even when they have access to virtual schooling, oftentimes their parents are unable to provide much parental support since they do not command the language.
Haitians are facing the pandemic with not only the fear of course of getting infected but also lack of health insurance. Loss of income, inability to care for their children and work at the same time, affordable child care, are also causes of concern which bring a high level of anxiety and depression which is rarely discussed or even treated as a real issue in the Caribbean community.
“As though that was not enough, many with TPS and DACA fear being forced out in the event that a permanent solution is not found. So, immigration multiplies their level of fear and anxiety,” Bastien said.