Ohioans struggle to get help with utility bills

Federal programs exist, but how easy are they to access? Rashidah Abdulhaqq worries her electricity and heat will be shut off. 

These are vital services during normal times, but especially during the winter, and especially when she has a portable oxygen tank she carts around to keep herself alive. Flanked by several windows wrapped in plastic to better insulate her drafty Cleveland home, Abdulhaqq said she’s been trying for almost three months to get an application in for several programs to help her with her utility bills. Struggling with bills? Check out this guide created to help by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative and Black Girl Media.

Peer support: how ordinary Ohioans are helping others break mental health barriers

Four years ago, Rondye Brown reached “the darkest place” in his life. Feeling trapped in an endless cycle of crime, prison and substance abuse, Brown decided on what he believed to be his best solution. 

“I asked God to remove his hand from me, because I didn’t want to be in a conscious state of feeling,” he recalled. “When I said that to God, I knew that I was going to end my life.”

Alone in his room that night at a friend’s house in Southern Ohio, Brown grabbed a knife and stabbed himself in the chest. When he regained consciousness a few hours later, he looked down at a pool of blood. He also saw the knife and knew he needed to remove it. 

He called a couple of friends from church, and they drove him to the hospital.

Covid Correctional: behind Ohio’s campaign to get prisoners vaccinated

When James Burris was sent to quarantine in a solitary confinement cell, the doctor wouldn’t tell him who allegedly exposed him to the coronavirus, citing laws protecting personal medical information. Burris said he and the four other men sent off to quarantine with him deduced who might have exposed them by comparing notes. 

“None of us knew each other,” Burris says. “The only thing we had in common was we all had been in [remote] contact with the Global Tel Link lady.”

Global Tel Link, or GTL, provides digital tablets inmates can use to buy music and rent movies. Burris’ signed up to see the GTL worker because his tablet was broken, but he said he hadn’t even met with her that day because he had been in dialysis. No one in the quarantine group caught COVID-19.

How one Ohio city lowered evictions and late rental payments

Early statistics from Cleveland's Right to Counsel program show promising results - but what will happen when that moratorium ends? East Side Cleveland resident Dennis Eads ran into some trouble paying rent last year. Eads, a father of five, said he was thankful to have kept his job at a warehouse in the Cleveland area despite the pandemic. But, some of his children got sick, which meant he couldn’t go to work. “I had to quarantine at the house; I couldn’t go outside, couldn’t go to work, couldn’t get paid,” he said.

No Comprendo Covid: Pandemic reveals lack of bilingual health workers

In the early months of the pandemic, Cleveland Councilwoman Jasmin Santana, who represents a West Side ward with the densest population of Latinos in the city, said health department officials reassured her that when the city released urgent health updates, they would be translated into Spanish. 

It didn’t happen. 

The city put out public releases, sometimes daily, as the pandemic evolved – about safety precautions, work restrictions, and how many people were infected with the virus – but the information didn’t seem to make its way to the Spanish-speaking residents in Santana’s ward, where close to 40% of residents are Hispanic. 

When she pressed again, this time with city communications officials, Santana said she was told the city didn’t have resources for translation. 

One high-ranking city official suggested Santana and her office should create Spanish-language versions to distribute, she said. 

The reaction startled her. 

“I almost didn’t know how to respond,” Santana said. “That's when I started really realizing, ‘You know what? This is a huge issue for the city.’ Who would have thought that a city with more than 300,000 residents wouldn’t be ready to have their communications translated?” 

(A city spokesperson did respond to questions about what Santana was told.)

Santana’s concerns as a councilwoman were rooted in what she’d witnessed growing up in her community and later as a health outreach worker: that language and trust act as barriers to resources that can improve or save lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified pressure on a chronically underfunded public health system that already faced staggering disparities in access to medical care and health outcomes, especially for people with limited English proficiency. 

But the crisis also has offered an opportunity, which some local health departments have embraced, to forge relationships and connections that could outlast the virus. 

Cleveland, a city that declared racism a public health crisis almost a year ago, with officials vowing to tackle disparities and inequities, has seen some progress but it has been sluggish. 

Despite a windfall in pandemic aid, Cleveland still has not beefed up its own contract tracing operations by adding bilingual staff. Instead, it has relied on the state health department for virtual assistance with Spanish-speaking residents and a language translation line.

Fighting to open closed doors: how advocates stepped up efforts to help sex trafficking survivors in a world where hiding victims is easier than ever

This article is from Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join their free mailing list, as this helps provide more public service reporting. For women survivors of sex trafficking struggling to make ends meet, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already desperate situation. Funding programs to support them have shifted to more urgent crisis funding— to house and feed the homeless, for example. Losing financial and food security only places these already scuffling women at an even greater risk of being trafficked again to earn money just to survive.

This Speech Clinic (Literally) Helps Trans People Find Their Voice

This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism in partnership with the Buckeye Flame. Please join our free mailing list or the mailing list for the Flame as this helps us provide more public service reporting. After beginning with some vocal stretches to warm up her voicebox, Ginger Williams hums and vocalizes to match a tone played by Maureen Brogan, a student clinician. “Good! I got 195,” Maureen reports. 

“Yes!” Ginger whispers, her excitement quiet but palpable even over video conference. Her 195 signifies “195 hertz,” which falls nicely into the 180-240 range associated with a female pitch. 

For Ginger, a transgender woman, this result is exactly what she is here to achieve.