“I love Charlotte,” says Ethiopia. “I really do. I think it’s a very neat city with lots of growth. I like the diversity here.”
And if anyone can appreciate diversity, it’s Ethiopia.
Born in Germany to an American serviceman and an African woman, Ethiopia was named for her mother’s native country. She grew up walking the cobblestone streets of her town, admiring its thousand-year-old cathedrals. Ethiopia dreamed of becoming an architect, designing and creating beautiful buildings of her own.
It’s a long way from that picturesque German town to a motel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But that’s exactly where Ethiopia finds herself today, riding out the pandemic with her eight-year-old daughter, Haleigha. The motel has been their home ever since an eviction two years ago. “What was a temporary option became permanent,” Ethiopia says, largely due to the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the Queen City.
Still, up until a few weeks ago, they were getting by. Ethiopia had a good job at the airport; in fact, she had just been hired permanently after months of working through a temp agency. Eighteen days later, she was laid off due to COVID-19.
With the weekly rent due and no money coming in, homelessness loomed. Fortunately, Ethiopia was able to connect with Crisis Assistance Ministry. As Ethiopia explained in an interview with WSOC, “Crisis (Assistance Ministry) called, and that lifted that weight off my shoulders.”
To the generous donors who made the assistance possible, Ethiopia says, “’Thank you’ says it in a nutshell, but I don’t think it conveys how grateful my daughter and I are. They haven’t created a word for my gratitude, to be honest with you. I think they need to update that in the English language.”
Currently, thanks to the hard work of Legal Aid of North Carolina and other advocates, motel residents like Ethiopia are protected from eviction during the coronavirus crisis. But once the moratorium is lifted, thousands in our community will face daunting debt and an uncertain future.
Ethiopia is optimistic. Her job is secure, she says, and her income will eventually return. Haleigha is doing fine with her virtual third-grade schoolwork, even though she misses her friends. But, Ethiopia says, “I think the question we all want an answer to, and not just a ‘we’ll get back with you’ answer, is: why is it taking so long for affordable housing to be built?”
In addition to Charlotte’s notorious shortage of affordable rental units, Ethiopia faces another obstacle to stable housing. Even if she could find a place, paying the motel’s weekly rate makes it nearly impossible to save up for the security deposit and first month’s rent. “I wouldn’t call it inhumane,” she says about families like hers, living in motels across the city, “But it’s just unnecessary. This can be fixed.”
“I don’t want a handout,” Ethiopia emphasizes. “I don’t want someone to pay my bills for me. I just want the same opportunity to be able to provide for my family as anyone else.”