This 60-year-old short-order cook is facing eviction as pandemic economy claims more victims

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to surge in the US, Dallas residents like Diane Lusk are struggling to find relief. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.

Posted: Oct 13, 2020 2:31 PM
Updated: Oct 13, 2020 2:31 PM

For three months this year, in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Diane Lusk was out of work.

She had watched unpaid utility bills pile up -- then one day came home to find her electricity had been turned off. "I just never dreamed that I would see the days that I'm seeing," Lusk told CNN.

Lusk finally found a new job flipping cheesesteak sandwiches at Happy Eats restaurant in Dallas. Now the 60-year-old cook often works 12-hour days trying to dig herself out of the valley of despair created by the pandemic.

But even with a steady job the pressure isn't easing up. Lusk learned last month that her landlord would not be renewing the $600-a-month lease on the modest home with yellow siding that she shares with her three dogs.

Lusk makes $11 an hour and is struggling to find an affordable new place to live. She said most rental homes she finds are asking at least $1,000 a month and that's too much for her right now.

Lusk's eviction case is slated for a court hearing this week and she's hoping the judge gives her until the end of the month to find a new place to live. She's growing anxious about what the days ahead will bring.

The uncertainty of coming home wondering if the key will unlock the door gnaws at her every day. It's a reality she never dreamed of having to deal with at this stage in her life. "If I have to move tomorrow, God help me," she said.

"I'm trying to climb that mountain and get out of the valley."

Neighbors called to help

Lusk and others have found a lifeline through the help of the congregation at Praise Fellowship Church in her hometown of Wilmer, about a 30-minute drive south of Dallas.

Every Tuesday, Pastor Edwin Favors and a team of volunteers host a food line. The food line started before the pandemic but in recent months the demand has grown like never before.

Favors said that, before the pandemic, close to 400 people a week would show up for boxes of meats and fresh vegetables. The church now serves about 3,000 people a week.

Praise Fellowship Church sits on the side of Interstate 45. Most people probably don't even notice the tiny church as they speed past it on any given day. But on Tuesdays it's impossible not to see the hundreds of cars that line up waiting for their turn to wind their way through the food line.

The demand stunned Favors and made him realize the tentacles of the coronavirus have reached every corner of the country.

"I was very surprised," said Favors. "Everybody's going through it. You know this is a crisis that has literally hit every household."

The car line is filled with the stories of Americans struggling from week to week.

They include a housekeeper who spent 20 days hospitalized with Covid-19 and has been out of work for most of this year. Another is a father whose catering company cratered in the pandemic and who now works part time as a security guard.

They were just a few of many others who talked about losing hours at work and struggling to make ends meet.

Team of lawyers volunteer time

The profound impact of the pandemic is still unraveling across the country and some are warning that, as coronavirus cases begin surging once again, relief for the most vulnerable is desperately needed.

In March, Dallas tax attorney Mark Melton knew that as the economy shutdown there would be thousands of people in danger of losing their homes. Melton started sharing legal advice on eviction through social media accounts and since then the calls for help have not stopped.

From the kitchen of his home, Melton spends hours every day counseling people of their rights as tenants and what they can do to protect themselves. The demand has been so intense that Melton recruited 150 lawyers to help.

Melton dials another phone number and on the other end is a woman desperately trying to help a friend who is days away from not being able to pay her rent. The caller says her friend has been unemployed during the pandemic, her savings have run out -- and she fears that she's about to get locked out of her apartment.

"She's so scared. She's all by herself," said the caller.

Melton said the team of volunteer lawyers have helped 4,000 people who are facing eviction in the last six months.

"It certainly is emotionally draining. I spend ... many hours a day talking to people that are going through what is probably one of the worst experiences of their life," he said. "There are definitely days where I just turn the lights off and sit in here and just cry my eyes out trying to figure out how to take the next step."

'A mass homelessness event'

A few months ago, Melton said he got a call from a woman who had been kicked out of her apartment. The landlord was moving all of her belongings onto the sidewalk.

Melton said it was an unlawful eviction and spent six hours on the phones with local prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

He made his case and by the end of the day all of the woman's belongings were moved back into her house.

Melton understands the fear and heartbreak on the other end of these phone calls. When he was 20 years old, he lost his home in a foreclosure after being laid off from one of his first jobs when he lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Essentially homeless, Melton packed his wife and children into a car and moved to Dallas to start over. That experience is what guided him to start offering his help to those most in need during the pandemic.

"There really is no answer to this problem, unless the economy just magically recovers tomorrow," Melton said. "We're going to see a mass homelessness event like we've never experienced."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 324537

Reported Deaths: 5594
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion44186858
Lake28094462
Allen18660301
Elkhart17663230
St. Joseph17256234
Hamilton13612170
Vanderburgh10028121
Tippecanoe896729
Porter855386
Johnson6718169
Hendricks6412158
Vigo625889
Monroe550450
Clark531078
Madison5239122
Delaware5075103
LaPorte481196
Kosciusko475941
Howard364177
Bartholomew335365
Warrick335372
Floyd329478
Wayne325678
Marshall311846
Cass303931
Grant287150
Hancock272957
Noble264946
Henry256437
Boone255054
Dubois245631
Dearborn228231
Jackson226334
Morgan221243
Gibson194926
Knox193021
Shelby192656
Clinton185421
DeKalb183932
Lawrence183849
Wabash172821
Adams172422
Miami170815
Daviess163145
Fayette153734
Steuben153414
Jasper151713
Montgomery149327
Harrison147624
LaGrange146131
Ripley145815
Whitley142314
Huntington133510
Decatur132543
Putnam131128
White131022
Wells130130
Clay130023
Randolph128121
Posey125816
Jefferson124116
Scott114520
Greene106053
Sullivan102716
Jay101913
Starke95022
Jennings90414
Spencer8908
Fulton87519
Perry85121
Fountain8228
Washington8127
Franklin73427
Carroll71913
Orange70028
Vermillion6607
Owen6468
Tipton60327
Parke6026
Newton57812
Rush5708
Blackford56612
Pike52719
Pulaski41815
Martin3705
Benton3643
Brown3574
Crawford3081
Union2782
Switzerland2655
Warren2562
Ohio2387
Unassigned0266

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 399808

Reported Deaths: 6346
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin52652672
Cuyahoga39132746
Hamilton31491372
Montgomery21355242
Butler15768149
Lucas15301420
Summit14667330
Stark9780209
Warren878777
Mahoning7985301
Lake752566
Lorain7149106
Clermont622953
Delaware597337
Licking589977
Trumbull5867148
Fairfield576464
Greene559568
Clark5438129
Allen518389
Medina496557
Marion489359
Wood4861108
Miami456268
Pickaway410548
Portage385574
Columbiana376599
Tuscarawas360567
Richland349639
Wayne340894
Mercer299248
Muskingum262510
Hancock257240
Ross251259
Darke246160
Auglaize243935
Erie240868
Ashtabula240454
Putnam234549
Geauga227051
Union20838
Scioto204316
Lawrence201139
Shelby199917
Athens19984
Seneca192919
Belmont176729
Madison172019
Sandusky166429
Huron163022
Preble162521
Defiance149923
Holmes146939
Knox139719
Logan139018
Jefferson138113
Fulton135826
Crawford134417
Washington133427
Ottawa128830
Ashland117328
Williams11479
Clinton113115
Highland108118
Brown10755
Hardin107019
Henry105423
Champaign10535
Jackson102012
Van Wert99918
Fayette97317
Guernsey96814
Morrow9682
Coshocton91015
Perry86613
Adams83813
Gallia81615
Pike7921
Wyandot76118
Paulding70012
Hocking68516
Noble65124
Carroll53210
Meigs41712
Monroe34921
Morgan2925
Harrison2433
Vinton2326
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
34° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 30°
Angola
Clear
34° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 29°
Huntington
Clear
32° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 32°
Decatur
Clear
32° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 32°
Van Wert
Clear
32° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 32°
Warm Sunday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events