What would you do if you got the call?
Imagine picking up your phone and having your suspicions confirmed – that run down, miserable feeling you’d been dealing with was COVID-19. What would you do? You’d get a test and quarantine. Now imagine that in doing the right thing, you’d likely lose your job, your livelihood and your ability to feed your family. That’s the reality facing many in our community.
By now we know what it will take to continue to control the spread of COVID-19– and prepare for potential future surges: large-scale testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and self-care. With these tools, communities across Eastern MA and Southern NH have –at least for now– reduced transmission of COVID. But for some, these essential steps can be financially devastating.
One city is helping residents confront this challenge head-on. In the City of Lynn, daily positive rates have fallen. The contact tracing team operated by Lynn Community Health Center has been hard at work all summer calling residents, explaining that someone has tested positive or has been exposed to someone who tested positive. At the same time, they are directing these residents toward resources available to help them care for themselves, physically and financially.
EVERY STREET IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD
In Lynn, a city of 100,000 people, the effects of the virus have been overwhelming. Literally every street in every neighborhood has at least one household that has been impacted by wage or income loss. Patients of Lynn Community Health Center who need support with housing and food to quarantine safely are referred to MA Coalition for the Homeless, one of five nonprofit partners deploying funds from United Way’s Lynn Community Care Fund. In a city of 100,000 people, we have helped more than 1,000 Lynn households pay for their housing, utilities, and/or food.
One way out of the pandemic is for people who test positive, or who are exposed to someone who does, to have the means to bear the economic burdens involved with quarantining. As last month’s Housing Report Card Series by The Boston Foundation made clear, this is much more challenging to do in communities with tight, expensive housing markets. When United Way mapped the addresses of people in Lynn who received our assistance, we found no neighborhood in the city untouched by income disruption. What happens when the solution is to quarantine in an apartment you share with your extended family because you cannot afford to rent another apartment? What happens when the room you had been renting for yourself and your children for $500 per month becomes $700 or $900, in the midst of a pandemic? What if you have never been late with your rent before, and despite the moratorium, you fear staying home will mean you cannot pay when the moratorium eventually lifts?
The People we rely on have to be able to rely on us
The people most deeply impacted by the shutdown — front line workers, people who become sick but have no means to safely quarantine — need to know they can rely on their community for support. As the public health restrictions loosen, all people must be able to quarantine when they need to, without fear that lost income will result in their children going hungry or their family losing their housing.
This is one of the reasons that United Way launched relief funds in partnership with some of the hardest-hit cities in Massachusetts: Chelsea, Brockton, Lawrence, Everett, Lynn, Randolph, among others. We commend the mayors, state representatives, their staff who, while busy responding to the public health emergency, established these funds to mobilize their residents and local nonprofits to reach the most vulnerable people with the basics — food, supplies, help paying the rent. In Chelsea, the One Chelsea Fund team has to date helped more than 3,200 households — in a city of 40,000 people. In Lawrence 1,300 households in a city of 50,000 people. This is just the beginning — these cities are home to the people our region relies on to get through the pandemic — people who work in grocery stores, distribution centers, and hospitals. They are also home to people furloughed from jobs the region will rely on again in the near future — those in security, child care, hospitality, and food-service. As public health restrictions loosen, these are the people who must be able to quarantine.
This is what we can do
Our ability to safely reopen our schools, businesses, and public spaces will depend on our willingness to remain in solidarity with all members of our community. Expanding employee protections like paid sick leave is an important start, but it will take all of us committing as well to prioritizing critical housing reforms so that people can stay in their homes. There are a number of ways we can do that:
- GIVE: If your family has not been deeply financially impacted by the shutdown — as we know many have — consider giving to one of the Funds we established for the people of our region’s especially hard-hit cities: Lynn, Everett, Chelsea, Lawrence, Randolph, Brockton to ensure all people can quarantine and still feed their families.
- THINK LONG TERM: Our partners in some markets are reporting rental increases during the pandemic. This will no doubt put a deeper strain on renters and city and state budgets. Now is the time to recommit ourselves as a community to bringing rental costs closer in line with people’s incomes.