Justice Williams has fallen victim to the economic impact of COVID-19
Justice Williams is living in limbo. She has nowhere to go and nowhere to return to. For now, she is living in a motel room in Tuscaloosa.
Williams, a waitress and bartender, is out of work because of the COVID-19 shutdowns. While she believes she may be able to return to her job at Raised on Country, a restaurant on University Boulevard in Tuscaloosa, that, too, is uncertain.
What is certain is that she is out of money, and she has no family to turn to for help. The 43-year-old is hanging on with the family cat, and hoping for some positive change.
“Of course, my restaurant shut down, now I’m broke and in a motel. The only reason I’m still here is a friend paid for a couple of nights. I’ve been told I can go to a shelter tomorrow,” Williams said.
Williams’ sudden joblessness is part of a national trend. According to the Washington Post, more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — a record — as political and public health leaders put the economy in a deep freeze, keeping people at home and trying to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
In Alabama, the Alabama Department of Labor on Thursday said that 80,984 people filed for unemployment benefits during the week of March 15-21. At least 74,844 of those claims were related to COVID-19, according to a news release from the department.
All industries in the state reported increases but the hardest-hit sector in Alabama according to the labor department was in Williams’ field: the accommodation and food services industry with 14,572 claims filed.
Williams said her troubles began when the onsite dining restrictions kicked in, which meant that she was out of a job. She had a roommate she was splitting expenses with who was a University of Alabama student. When the campus shut down, her roommate left town, and she could not pay the rent and had to move out.
Thinking she had the problem resolved, she moved in with a friend in Cottondale, but that, too, collapsed when the friend’s parents became upset about the novel coronavirus and brought her home to live with them. Having no place left to go, she turned to the motel for a temporary place to live.
“People just don’t understand. There are some of us who are downfallen because of their reactions to the coronavirus. There are some who are legitimately down who served in the food industry. Some of us don’t have families to fall back on,” Williams said. “When they let us go back to work, I can go back. I’m just in the middle and what am I supposed to do? Like I said, not everybody has a mom and dad to go home to. I have no family at all. My parents are deceased.”
She has sought help through various churches and relief organizations with mixed results. Capstone Church paid for a couple of more nights in the motel, but that won’t last long. She has had trouble obtaining help from other religious organizations in town and has no idea where she will be living in another day or two.
“I’m not trying to get anybody to feel sorry for me,” Williams said. “I have reached out to churches and they send you to somewhere else where they have donated money to. I told them I needed help and they said they would call me. I never heard back from them. That’s just how it goes on these programs they send you to. I get that there are so many people who need help right now, but we need to quit going to committees.”
Williams worked at Raised on Country on University Boulevard and has high praise for the owners who she said had helped her as much as anyone could expect. She has lived in Tuscaloosa for over two years and has worked for other restaurants in town. She started work in January at Raised on Country. It is still open, but like all other restaurants, it’s only serving walk-up customers for take-out orders.
Service industries and restaurants have been hit hard by the various lockdown orders. In a message to The Tuscaloosa News in the first week after the restrictions began, the manager of Another Broken Egg informed the News that he had been forced to lay off almost 30 members of his staff. Restrictions on public gatherings will keep restaurants from opening for anything other than carry- out orders for the foreseeable future.
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