Sheltering in place and the gig economy

Shanai Matteson’s children Esli and Amasa busy themselves at home during the governor’s Shelter in Place directive. They are helping make masks and doing school work.

“Except for grocery stores, which are busy and picked over, the streets of northeast  Minneapolis are pretty quiet as a result of people working at home and schools being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said independent artist Shanai Matteson.

Matteson is the daughter of Paulette and Jim Matteson of Aitkin. She is a self-employed small business owner who supports her family by lining up workshops, community events and art installations that keep her busy all year. She is now dealing with the cancellation of most of her work for the foreseeable future.

Matteson has two young children she is co-parenting with their father, who lives nearby. She and the children are self isolating. The childrens’ school is closed and Matteson is trying to still work from home.

She has what she needs and doesn’t feel like she needs to hoard anything.  

Because Matteson’s work  is either as an independent contractor or self employment through her LLC, she does not qualify for unemployment under current rules. Hairdressers, designers, artists and many contractors are in the same boat. Like Matteson, many of them have lost all of their work for the foreseeable future and have no idea how long this situation will last.

There is a bright side to this situation. Commenting this week from home, Matteson talked about some of the things she and her community of artists and other self-employed folks are doing to make the most of this time of staying safe at home.

People are using Facebook to share educational resources, curriculum, resources and to host online gatherings so that people are not feeling so isolated. Online parties and events  give the kids a chance to talk to other kids.  

“Yesterday a group of parents hosted an online ‘show and tell’ with other parents and kids. There was also an online poetry reading where parents and kids were sharing poetry by reading aloud,” said Matteson.

Matteson and her two  elementary-age children are making cloth face masks, and while she’s annoyed that in a wealthy country people have to make masks for health care workers, she sees a benefit in the collaboration and community caring. It gives people something active to do during this time.

A friend gave the family a chicken coop and some hens. This will not only help her family be more self sufficient in the city, but also gives the children something to distract them from all the difficult changes.  The children are 4 and 7 years old and are getting involved in community activities as much as they can.

Some of Matteson’s friends are looking into paying a music teacher to do online classes for several of their children at once, as a way to support other artists and help the children redeem the time they are out of school.

“People I know are also looking into ways to help immigrants and undocumented folks who are not eligible for so many of the assistance programs being offered right now,” Matteson said.

A couple of years ago, Matteson coordinated the establishment of the Dirt Party community garden.

“People are starting to see growing food gardens and urban farms as more important than ever with the current restrictions on movement,” she said.

Some other ways Matteson’s friends are trying to support other independent business owners is by buying gift certificates for future use; hair salons are pre-selling hair services.

Also, people are being creative and thoughtful about how they spend their money and time, and how they can support each other’s mental and physical health and well being.  

Therapists are being asked to be on call in case people need help to deal with anxiety and stress.  

“When some of us get sick (with the virus), a lot of this will change,” Matteson said. “Things will become real to people who think this isolation is an over-reaction.

“When friends become very sick and can’t get care because of overloaded healthcare systems, people will become even more depressed and helpless, so it’s important that we have close friends who are checking in and would help if one of us became ill.”

In addition to dealing with all of the current changes, Matteson is looking for work to replace the work she has lost.

“State government is trying to fill in some of the gap,” Matteson said. “Government leaders in Minnesota are listening and trying to put  the support where it is most needed. People are talking to their landlords and creditors about getting some leeway about paying their bills.”

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