CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Eviction Court, suspended three months because of COVID-19, reopened Monday to a docket full of nerves, with landlords anxious to get rent months past due and hurting families on the brink of homelessness.
"I'm feeling anxiety," said La’shawnda, a mother of six whose case was one of 1,000 pending.
La’shawnda is short two-months rent on her Winton Terrace apartment and could not hide her nerves behind her mask. The nurse’s aide got sick and lost her job. So did her three oldest who worked in restaurants.
"I thought I was on my way back to work,” she said. “Had a job doing temperature checks - making $20 an hour just to take people's temperature when they go into work. And my car broke down.”
She said she had no idea what to expect when she came to court Monday without a lawyer to represent her.
"I didn't know when I came in here if they were going to say, ‘You need to leave right now.’ I don't know. I never been through it before,” she said.
She was caught off-guard last week when a lawsuit forced Municipal Court judges to hear cases again.
"I spoke with them Thursday. They didn't think there was going to be court. Then I found out there was going to be court,” she said.
There wasn’t enough time to get an attorney.
A new one-stop shop funded by $5 million from the federal CARES Act and some money from Cincinnati City Council could help landlords and renters.
“I put in an application with them on Friday. Didn't hear anything back. Then I called Legal Aid. I was supposed to have a lawyer representation. But nobody showed up so,” she said.
“I'm fighting, just fighting for my life right now to be OK cause I've been through being homeless before. I had a house fire that landed me and all my kids and my dogs homeless. I don't ever want to have to go through this again in life.
"I don't want anything to happen where my children feel like they have to do anything or get into any kind of trouble on the streets because of what's going on not being able to work.”
In a letter, homeless advocates asked Municipal Court for delays because Ohio's moratorium against evictions covered businesses only.
"So you can't evict a company but you can evict a family,” said Nicholas Dinardo of Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio That's bad policy out of Columbus, and they should do better."
La'shawnda got in line for help but is still waiting and hoping to stave off eviction.
A judge gave her until next Monday morning to find the money before her case is heard.
Her application for help through the new eviction program is still pending.
Meanwhile, Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval said he’s afraid money to help both sides could run out soon.
“We expect in July and August for filings to skyrocket," Pureval said.