‘Shedding our grip’: In some neighborhoods, the devastation of the pandemic goes far past the illness itself.

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‘Losing our grip’: In some neighborhoods, the devastation of the pandemic goes far beyond the disease itself.

Numerous numbers can quantify how the pandemic and the resulting recession hit the United States: at least 7.8 million people fell into poverty, the biggest slump in six decades; 85 million Americans say they have had trouble paying basic household expenses, including food and rent.

But those numbers don't capture the feeling of mounting despair in some communities that struggled before the pandemic. In certain parts of the city on the east side of Cleveland, for example, longtime residents and workers speak of a steady breakup.

Shots echoed almost every night, they say. Cleveland Police reported six murders within 24 hours in November. Like in Cincinnati, Wichita, Kan. And for several other US cities, 2020 was the worst year for murders in Cleveland in decades.

Everyone's talking about crazy driving – in the past few months, cars have crashed into a corner grocery store, house, and popular local restaurant in the neighborhood of Slavic Village. In Cuyahoga County, 19 people died of overdoses in one week. All while the virus continues its deadly spread.

"Sometimes," said the Rev. Richard Gibson, whose 101-year-old church is in the Slavic village, "we feel that we no longer have a grip on civilization."

The places where many would normally have found out about new benefits and new rules – such as having a decent internet connection – are now closed.

"Our library is no longer open, our boys club is no longer open," said Tony Brancatelli, a member of the city council to whose parish the Slavic village belongs.

A decade ago, during the foreclosure crisis, parts of Mr Brancatelli's parish were among the hardest hit parts of the country, but more people kept their jobs. They had friends and relatives whom they could move in with or contact for financial assistance. Today, when parts of the Slavic village have over 30 percent unemployment and a virus is spreading in small gatherings, these supports are not there.

And the virus continues to rage. Cleveland has been spared the catastrophic cases of cities like Detroit or New Orleans, but has just weathered its worst two-month expansion. At the end of December, four out of five intensive care beds in hospitals in Cuyahoga County were in use.

In the university settlement, a 94-year-old social service facility in the Slavic village, there used to be a weekly dinner for everyone in the community. This has changed for take away. Some of the people who have been routinely screened by the organization appear to have simply disappeared and stopped answering the phone or knocking on the door.

"The community felt frayed and forgotten anyway," said Earl Pike, executive director of University Settlement. "It's starting to feel a little 'Mad Max'."

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