August 7, 2020
Crystal is 27 years old and one of the many people globally for whom staying at home during the pandemic didn’t automatically mean safety. She considers herself lucky, though, that she escaped her abusive partner and the father of her three children just a few weeks before the coronavirus shutdowns, and has been living in shelters ever since. Since the beginning of the pandemic, advocates have worried about a drop-off in reports to hotlines and to the police, which could mean those in abusive situations don’t feel safe to even call for help — or that they think a shelter could be worse, given the risk of the virus. Meanwhile, people like Crystal, who did get out in time to rebuild their lives, face a devastated job market, closed government agencies, and homeschooling without access to their prior support networks.
The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
What made me leave was that things were changing and they were getting worse. Our arguments were getting worse. I kept it a secret. We were together nine years, and that was going on for five of them. I have three kids — two girls and one boy, and they’re 5, 4, and 3. The last argument that me and him had, that’s where I decided we needed to get out. The next day, I woke up and took my daughter to school. He was like, “You better come right back.” And just the tone that he spoke to me — I was scared and I decided right then and there. I crossed the street from the school and I called the police. And I waited about 15 minutes, and he was calling me like, “Where are you? Where are you? I’m coming to get you.” Finally, the cops get there and see that I had marks on me. While I was speaking to them, giving them my report, my ex came out of nowhere. He was hostile and they arrested him. The woman cop that was there with me, she came back with me to the apartment so I could get my other two children to go back to a station to make my report while they processed him.
Before all this, I worked in security. My operating site was at Blue Apron in Linden, New Jersey. I had to leave that job the same day I was placed in the shelter — the commute would’ve been too much and I didn’t have anyone to care for my kids while I was gone. Still, I had so much planned for myself. I was finally free. I was planning on going back to school, finding a part-time job, rediscovering who I am as an individual. Then the pandemic started.
There were about 30 families living in the shelter. Three weeks in, we got an announcement that three families needed to be quarantined — and to please keep your hands washed because the sick families came in contact with other people. I was scared to even get in the elevator or to breathe the air in the hallway. Security would leave anything the sick family needed by their door. But still, it was scary. I was pissed, like, How can you just leave them here? And then I didn’t hear of anyone, you know, getting gravely ill because of it or anything like that. So there were people that came in contact, but were they infected? They never disclosed that.