At our May Community meeting, Policy Action Team meeting, and Consumer Advocacy Team meeting we discussed COVID-19, equity, immigration and race. We learned a lot from a variety of different presenters, including MIRA coalition, HarborCOV and the Massachusetts Public Health Association (the lead agency behind the Equity Task Force on COVID-19). We are happy to share some of our key take-aways, along with resources and suggestions for providers!
Key Take Away #1: The virus is compounding existing inequalities in our society
Some examples from HarborCOV:
- Chelsea, a city with one of highest rates of COVID in Massachusetts, has a large working class, immigrant, and POC population. It is hard to practice social distancing because there is a lot of overcrowded housing. Moreover, these working folks are highly represented in social service jobs. They need to work to continue to feed their families and pay rent, and therefore have a higher chance of becoming infected. But unfortunately, many of these folks are cut out of benefits — they are ineligible for stimulus checks or unemployment, if they have not had a work permit for long enough.
- Decades of racist policing, prosecution, and sentencing have resulted in the gross over-incarceration of POC, particularly black men. Social distancing is impossible in jail, and these folks are often ignored for basic medical care, let alone COVID prevention measures. These injustices compound, so people who have already been over-policed are now over-punished with COVID exposure.
- Similarly, this administration has resisted offering medical care to people in immigration jails. Despite the government’s reluctance to test these folks, approximately 50% of ICE detainees who have been tested are positive for COVID. People in immigration jail often have no criminal charges or, by definition, have likely already served their criminal sentence. The government is unnecessarily punishing them with incarceration and COVID exposure.
Here, an HFF Consumer Advocacy Team member, who is a critical worker, describes some of the added challenges that essential workers are facing right now:“I still had to go to work but was scared to commute to work on the MBTA so I had been taking UBERs/Lyft’s. However, because many people aren’t working right now the ride share prices have gone up and they are not doing their pool option, which makes it expensive to go to work. Then, having to find some ne to watch my kids has also been a struggle because many people do not want people coming in and out of their houses during this time. I had to make the decision to stop working”
Key Take Away #2: Data plus priorities chosen through a racial equity lens are needed to address inequalities
There is important advocacy underway to urge Massachusetts policymakers to collect and report out on COVID-19 related data by race and other key categories (e.g. immigrant status, occupation status). Learn more and take action here! Meanwhile, we can improve our advocacy and services, if we also questions about unintended consequences and who benefits the most by our chosen policies and practices.
Here are some questions that might be used as a guide when deciding on policy and practice changes:
- What are the racial impacts and who will be most impacted?
- Who will benefit and who will be burdened; and have we considered unintended consequences?
- How are affected community members engaged in this?
- How can we monitor implementation?
Key Take Away #3: Opportunity to shift our frame on “essential workers”
Inspired by MIRA Coalition: This experience with COVID-19 has highlighted the variety of different essential workers in our communities and across our country. They are disproportionately immigrants, people of color, and people with lower-incomes. We need to come to understand and appreciate “essential workers” as essential and valuable not only in times of crisis, but all of the time.
Resources and Recommendations for Providers
From MIRA Coalition: We urge service providers to really think about the ways that they can be flexible in how they provide services to ensure they are inclusive.
- Some barriers to consider include participant’s lack of awareness of scope of services due to a language or cultural barrier.
- Understand immigrants can have fear of exposure. A provider can sit down to fill out an application and may not realize that if they are working with an immigrant family, disclosing a lot of this info can feel really risky.
- There can be general mistrust of authority that is well founded based on what immigrants have experienced in their home country but also what they have experienced here. It’s important to understand that privacy and secrecy can be a strategy that is adopted to keep safe and not necessarily an indication of whether they trust you as a service provider.
Some Resources on Immigrants, Public Charge, and COVID-19:
- Public Charge in the Time of COVID-19 (also available in Portuguese and Spanish)
- Public Charge overview
- COVID resource pages: www.miracoalition.org/coronavirus and in Spanish at www.miracoalition.org/coronavirus-es
- The MA Attorney General’s website: COVID Resources Available to Immigrants and Refugees and Multilingual COVID-19 Resources (on access to care and resources).
We hope you find these resources and insights useful in our ongoing collective work to learn, improve, and get to the root causes of inequities that many families experiencing homelessness are confronting.
Liz and Team HFF