Our Homes and Lives Under the COVID Lens

(Dimly lit photo shot from the bedroom of a high rise apartment looking out the window onto the city lights below)
By Kat Veiga

Nov. 21, 2020

So we find ourselves here.

HERE! Right now... where are you?

Are you sitting? Standing? Breathing into a paper bag?

Take a second to notice the space around you, and where you are in that space. How has your life changed since March? Has time felt faster, or slower?

Maybe time has even felt like it's melted into some void where days feel like months, and months feel like minutes – that's okay too. March 2020 was a rough one – a rough one of varying degrees.

This past March I was doing conservation work in a small rural community in Los Santos, Panama. I was surviving the dry summer heat, planning projects and summer camps. I had just settled into my home that sat on a hill next to the creek – a quaint 2 bedroom concrete box with a tin roof.

It was a beautiful concrete box– truly, I loved it. The windows were open every day to let the hot summer breeze blow through the curtains. The geckos chirped on the pink walls and snacked on my personal swarm of mosquitos. ... Life was different.

It was 8 p.m. on March 19 when the WhatsApp message came through that we had to pack up our lives, say goodbye to our host families, and meet in the capital of Panama City by noon. A week later the U.S. government chartered a private flight to evacuate 200 volunteers from Panama and Colombia.

So life changed again, my home changed again, and it hasn't stopped since.

(Illustration of people social distancing in an apartment)
Currently, I find myself living in Northeast Portland, Oregon. I have a job, a shared home office, I have food in the fridge, and I have my health that I can keep.

As a part-time notary signing agent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I get a rare look into the housing market as it shifts, as well as the families and homes that shift with it. Because I have the privilege to support myself without overwhelming struggle, I look outward to those around me.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an estimated 11.8 million (that is 1 in 6 adult renters!) and 11 percent of Oregon renters were not caught up on rent in early October based on data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. On top of that, one in three households and 29 percent of Oregonians are having difficulty covering usual household expenses.

As a result, what is happening in our community? How has this pandemic affected our social networks? How have our homes changed, and how have we changed with them?
(Illustrated comic titled “Spread Positivity”. Panel 1: Spreading a Happy Face onto toast. Panel 2: Placing a Happy Face into a donation box. Panel 3: Text conversation of sending a Happy Face message. Panel 4: Spraying Happy Faces from a spray bottle. Panel 5: Quotation “Not The Virus”.)
There is an influx of new and a flushing out of old. Newcomers are leaning into Portland as others lean out and elsewhere. Some have taken the opportunity to refinance their homes, while others have been evicted or sunken into debt. I see packed houses, empty houses, homes for sale, and homes decked out with new renovations.

I’ve visited homes and patios in every Portland neighborhood – I’ve seen the home classrooms, the home offices, the newly built spaces, and I see how the homes are emerging from our periphery and becoming the center of our world.

But the world is ripe with extreme duality, so with abundance comes deprivation. I see this between the homes I visit – the tented encampments and the souls who exist with nothing resembling comfort.

We have all been hit by flux.

Let’s process this as neighbors – our home and lives under the COVID lens.