CINCINNATI — Courtney Smith was a dancer and mother of four 20-somethings whose job drummed up enough money to rent a home in Madisonville until severe pain put a cane in the 43-year-old's hand and put her out of work. It didn't take long for the bills to outnumber the paychecks and for rent checks to fall months behind.
"I'm always worried about what we're going to do next. I don't want to be homeless and disabled," Smith told WCPO. "Then where would I go? That's all I ever want, is just somewhere I can be that I don't have to worry about if I'm going to be put out or if I'm not going to have a place," Smith said.
She's had to go looking for help to pay her rent in recent months: In September, St. Vincent de Paul gave her assistance. Saint Anthony Parish helped in September. She still owes rent for November and December, and neither group can help her again for at least six months due to limited resources.
"I don't know if I'm going to be put out. Being that I'm on a month-to-month (lease), they have that choice," she said. "I wake up crying sometimes, you know."
As a Black mom, Smith is among those who tend to face eviction most, according to a 2019 study by University of California - Berkley, University of Washington and the MacArthur Foundation.
Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval said he sees the trend continue locally, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended ceasing all evictions until January 2021 for those experiencing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is not a moratorium on evictions," Pureval said. "If you are a tenant, you can still be evicted right now for things other than failure to pay rent."
Records indicate that 34 households were evicted last week, and deputies have executed nearly 200 evictions since mid-November.
While the county opened a help center for renters and landlords in March, financed in part by CARES Act money, Pureval said he still worries about people like Smith.
"We are predominantly evicting, or disproportionately evicting, Black mothers," he told WCPO. "If these families are unable to pay their rent on January first, they're going to be evicted."
Mark Lawson is CEO of the Community Action Agency, a group out of Bond Hill that has worked to help Smith and some 4,000 others in Cincinnati struggling to pay rent, mortgage or utilities since August.
Lawson said the need for assistance is higher than ever.
"We've probably got a backlog of 600 to 700 folks that we're still trying to get in touch with that have called," he said. "We're doing the best we can. We've made a lot of new hires to ramp up our capacity."
As for Smith, she's still trying to figure out how she'll get caught up, but she hasn't lost her faith.
"I pray every day that the most high is going to look out for me, and he does here and there... I don't give up; I try not to," she said. "I feel like I want to, but I know I can't. It's just not in me."