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Scores of Orange County residents, who are out of work from state-mandated business closures, are trying their best to stay positive, file for unemployment and even learn new skills as communities battle fear and boredom during the stay home state mandate.
“So far, this quarantine has been pretty chill. Been catching up on TV shows I wanted to watch. I’ve been looking for some new work, some part-time work, anything,” said Costa Mesa resident Sarah Guidroz.
Waves of business closures hit after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order late Thursday, calling for the closure of “non-essential” businesses like bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys, pool halls, concert halls and other public venues. Grocery stores, food distributors and take-out/delivery restaurants remain open.
Guidroz, who normally slings suds and mixes drinks at The Dolphin Lounge in Anaheim, said she’s looking to learn real estate or another skill outside the restaurant and bar industry.
She recommends other residents start doing the same with their newfound free time.
“File for unemployment as quickly as you can and try to occupy your time. Maybe start focusing on learning a skill you can take outside the restaurant industry, like coding or studying for a real estate license — something different. So, if this situation were to happen again, you have options outside the restaurant industry,” Guidroz said.
Unemployment claims spiked by 34 percent over the last week, according to data ending March 14 released from the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Like I tell the guys, it is what it is. Get online and file for unemployment. It’s not like it’s charity or free money — you’re just finally getting back what we all paid in to,” said Huntington Beach resident Kevin Calkin.
Calkin, the general manager for the Trading Post Fan Company in HB, said he was still completing a few customer orders Friday because shipments came in right before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Thursday shelter in place order.
He said he finally has a “legit reason from the state to stay home” and doesn’t have to work seven days a week anymore.
“I’m going to binge watch Breaking Bad for the fifth time and the Walking Dead — just sit down and do nothing. What’s actually sad is this will be the first vacation I get where I literally don’t have to go into the store for a couple hours,” Calkin said.
The Trading Post, which sells high-end ceiling fans and lighting fixtures, closed its doors Thursday for an indefinite amount of time.
Calkin joked about how he’ll pay the mortgage.
“When all my bills start coming due, I’m just going to print out Newsom’s order and stuff it in the envelopes and send that back,” Calkin said.
Small businesses, like The Trading Post, can also apply for federal disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Resilience Orange County, a youth and immigrant advocacy group, is transitioning from in-person support building to the internet through streams and webinars.
Claudia Perez, executive director for the advocacy group, said they’re working to “alleviate some of the tension and fear that is out there right now … it’s been pretty challenging for us, but we’ve dedicated vast amounts of resources and centering our focus around the digital lense.”
Roberto Herrera, community engagement director for Resilience OC, said the group has been working hard to ensure ICE isn’t arresting and deporting people during the shelter in place order.
“ICE has said they’re going to prioritize serious criminals,” Herrera said. “From what we know is that they’re always going to be targeting a variety of community members.
Herrera said it’s tough to balance between long-term planning and addressing the immediate community needs, like keeping the youth engaged in social issues in a time where students can’t go to school due to virus concerns.
“I think that it calls for us to really come together and address what is happening and point to the structural issues that have led us to where we are,” Herrera said of rent and eviction fears.
“I’m caught between the immediate needs that we have to meet in the community and also the long-term vision,” Herrera said.
Santa Ana resident Hairo Cortez said he’s seen people come together and help each other during the virus pandemic.
“I’ve seen people offering to pick up food for others, especially for immunocompromised or elderly. People are definitely sharing all the latest information that comes out. A lot of that is happening,” Cortez said.
Cortez is also the executive director if Chispa, a community activist group based in Santa Ana.
“We’ve been working with VietRISE and other folks on the response to all of this. Like making sure cities are stepping up with protections for the residents,” Cortez said. “A lot of people are either losing hours or being laid off. So making sure cities are stepping up to make sure aren’t being evicted at this time.”
Anaheim City Councilmembers will consider an eviction moratorium at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Santa Ana became the first city in OC to temporarily ban evictions when City Councilmembers voted on the issue Wednesday. The ban lifts at the end of May.
Meanwhile, Cortez said he’s been talking with friends and family through the internet lately and even celebrated a friends birthday Wednesday through video chat.
“People are getting creative with how they stay in touch and are connected. Being at home all day can get pretty heavy and so people are definitely figuring out ways to stay connected to one another,” Cortez said.
A Westminster city employee, who works at a community center helping feed seniors and connect them with medical care, reminded everyone to stay positive during the virus outbreak.
The employee said they can’t be named due to fear of it jeopardizing their job.
“Get the board games out, if you have kids. Cook some family recipes. Definitely try to not watch too much TV. You don’t want to create more fear,” the employee said. “I’ve told my friends who have kids to build forts or at night play hide and seek for flashlights in your house — things I did as a kid.”
The employee was still working and said they were lucky to have the opportunity to continue their job. Despite the virus risk, they came to work because Westminster seniors and low-income residents still need food and assistance program guidance, the employee said.
The interview was stopped three times so the worker could pass out food to low-income families who stopped by the center, but had to stay at the front door.
The community center employee encouraged people to help their communities.
“Do you wanna look back and say what was I doing when this was going on, hoarding water and toilet paper? Or that I helped people — helped get people what they needed like food and was kind,” the employee said. “I’m just trying to do my part to make the world a better place until I have to go home.”
Questions on relief packages and programs for workers and businesses from the state and federal government have been mounting around Orange County as local officials scramble to figure out if they can follow Newsom’s call to ban evictions.
If a city calls a state of emergency, it could also halt evictions, according to another executive order issued by Newsom on Monday.
“People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their home because of the spread of COVID-19,” said Newsom in a news release. “Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices – but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I strongly encourage cities and counties take up this authority to protect Californians.”
But, cities have to explicitly adopt their own local ordinances on any potential moratorium. Waves of OC cities have declared states of emergency in order to unlock state and federal aid.
OC residents can still apply for relief programs through the Orange County Social Services Agency, which can process online filings for assistance programs. One program includes an emergency cash assistance of up to $200 for immediate needs like rent or medical bills.
The agency’s website encourages people to apply for benefits through the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program.
The CalWORKS program is geared for low-income families.
U.S. Senators are wrestling over details in a proposed $1 trillion relief package aimed at businesses and U.S. citizens, which could give people checks for up to $1,200.
Anaheim resident and bartender, Tiffany Hitchcock, said she is financially sound for now because she was able to save paychecks and live off the tip money.
“It hasn’t brought me down. It’s definitely challenging from going from working constantly to staying home all day,” Hitchcock said, adding that she’s filed for unemployment.
She said her house has never been cleaner than it is this week.
“Try to keep your spirits up. Make use of the time you have right now and hopefully we’ll go back to work soon,” Hitchcock said. “We barbequed last night, but other than that we’re just staying in. I spent yesterday cleaning the house and doing laundry.”
A Buena Park resident said she’s handling the stay home directive pretty well. She said she can’t be named because she just got a new job at a food flavoring business and fears retaliation if her name was published.
“The introvert in me is like this is not a problem,” she said. “I’m trying to get my boyfriend to do some yoga with me — that’s not working. But I will be doing that, a light workout, so I’m not laying down all day.”
She and her boyfriend are awaiting results on a Coronavirus test and while he’s somewhat feverish, he doesn’t have a cough or severe body aches. While her employer hasn’t closed, she has to be quarantined because her boyfriend may have the virus.
They’re reading books and thinking about buying video game consoles to help battle boredom.
“I saw that Animal Crossing was coming out and I’m thinking about buying a Switch or something. So yeah, this staying at home order has got us thinking about spending money on electronics for sure,” the Buena Park resident said.
The Westminster community center employee encouraged people to explore their creative sides while at home.
“Get creative, stay busy, stay positive.”