A homeless man in the US
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of many immigrants in the US and Kenyans have not been spared either.
One such Kenyan is Kariuki, who moved to the US in 2015 as an undergraduate student at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Speaking to Daily Nation’s North America correspondent Chris Wamalwa, Kariuki who hails from Nakuru County said all was well until Covid-19 broke out in the US early this year, leading to restriction of movement and shut down of schools, colleges, universities, hotels, and shops in the state of Pennsylvania.
“My mom, a hawker in Nakuru, raised the initial $10,000 for my tuition and that could only last me a semester and a half. Fortunately, I got a part-time job at the library in college but I still had to work at a local grocery store in the evenings and play drums for my church on Sundays where I was paid $100 every Sunday. Things were okay until Covid-19,” said Kariuki (first name withheld for privacy reasons).
He added: “My roommate, in whose name our apartment was registered canceled the lease and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to his family. For almost three months, I lived in my car. It was hard to find food. The nights were cold. I started developing regular panic attacks that left me feeling like I was going crazy!”
One day, police found him at the busy junction between Island Avenue and Lindberg yelling at motorists and trying to stop them.
“I cannot remember doing this,” adds Kariuki who says he was “stressed, depressed and contemplating suicide” at the time.
He would later wake up in a psychiatric facility in West Chester and was informed he had been there for three weeks.
“I was totally confused, and heavily sedated. I had nowhere to go but at least I knew I had to leave that place,” he noted.
He later decided to camp at Philadelphia international airport, where he would get food from a classmate who worked at an eatery that had remained open. Here, he would also enjoy heating during spring and cold air in summer.
He stayed there for months until recently when police rounded him up together with other homeless people and were taken to a shelter for the homeless on Island Avenue in South Philadelphia.
His story is one of the many familiar stories of Kenyans in the US whose lives have been made worse by the pandemic.
Ohio-based Kenyan-born counselor and clinical consultant, Abel Oriri said: “It’s, of course, true to say that Covid-19 has led to a significant increase and demand for mental health intervention due to anxiety and depression. In fact, recent research indicates that more than 53 percent of adults in the US have reported that their mental health had negatively been impacted directly.”
“Many report difficulties sleeping, eating, increased alcohol consumption, and substance use. Worsening chronic conditions from worry, depression, and stress over Covid-19. The anger management and domestic violence groups that I have been providing for more than 20 years have surged one hundred percent in enrollment since the pandemic began,” he added.
Washington-based Kenyan Pastoral and Clinical Counsellor, David Bulindah said the lives of many Kenyans in the US were disrupted without warning by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Most people could not leave their job and or could not go to their second job. For someone who had been enjoying consistent income to suddenly lose all that, stress, anxiety, and depression thus kicks in,” he said.
“People should know that it’s okay to lose a job and it’s okay to experience mental health problems. Those affected should not isolate themselves rather, reach out for help.”