COVID-19 EMERGENCY RESPONSE
Immigrant communities like ours in Chelsea, Massachusetts have become hot spots for rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, revealing gross inequities in our safety net systems. With infection rates spiking among Latinxs, immigrants, and non-English-speakers, it’s now clear that COVID-19 is not affecting all communities the same. Ours is being devastated and we must come together to ensure our most vulnerable families are not left behind to fight this virus alone. Today, our focus is on helping our community to survive the COVID-19 pandemic – to keep families and children fed, housed, and receiving the medical care they need. Once this terrible virus passes, we have a long road ahead to help our community recover from the economic toll.
Chelsea residents are less likely to have the luxury of being able to work from home, as the Massachusetts ACLU has reported that 80% of Chelsea workers are essential employees. These individuals are sustaining the essential services that we rely on – and being exposed to the virus at disproportionately high rates. With overcrowded housing, a reliance on public transportation, language barriers, lack of bilingual information, and fear in our immigrant community – the virus has been able to spread quickly.
Immigrants are also suffering a financial crisis with unemployment numbers rising daily and undocumented residents unable to access any benefits. Our neighbors stand in the rain and in crowded lines to receive food donations, diapers, and medical care. The state’s moratorium on evictions offers a temporary fix to the housing crisis, as our low-income families will not be able to pay back rent when the moratorium ends.
HERE'S WHAT WE'RE DOING
In response to overwhelming food insecurity in our community, we established a pop-up food pantry at the Chelsea Collaborative, with weekly distributions of groceries, diapers, and other household and personal necessities. Staff and volunteers are also delivering food to the most vulnerable members of our community. We are feeding more than 3,000 community members each week.
Housing instability threatens the wellbeing of our community – as many tenants are falling ill, unable to work or pay rent, and are being asked to leave their rented rooms. The moratorium on evictions in our state is only a temporary fix, as rent will still be due when the moratorium ends. We know that our low-income families – many of whom are now unemployed and in financial crisis – will not be able to pay back rent and will face eviction in the future. We are responding to housing emergencies to ensure that no member of our community is on the streets. We are working with the city and state officials to expand access to hotel quarantine options, expand resources for rental assistance programs, advocating for rental amnesty to families in economic crisis, and expand access to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction.
We advocated for and secured significantly expanded testing for Chelsea residents at MGH-Chelsea Healthcare Center. Now, anyone who is symptomatic in Chelsea can be tested. We are working with City and MGH officials to reassure our community members that they can safely access testing regardless of immigration status or insurance.
A Lifeline to Immigrants
The Chelsea Collaborative staff and volunteers are operating a bilingual community hotline (617-889-6080) where all residents can call for help. We field an average of 200 incoming calls a day, connecting residents to resources and information. The Collaborative is a trusted resource for our immigrant community; families know they will receive accurate, multi-lingual and culturally proficient responses from the Collaborative. We conduct weekly bilingual wellness calls to 250+ community members each week to assess needs and deploy resources. We are also actively distributing information and connecting with members via social media, our website, radio, TV, and newspapers.
Immediate Financial Support
With the United Way and other Chelsea leaders, we established the One Chelsea Fund which provides immediate financial support directly to families in need (one $250 check per family). More than $500,000 has already been distributed directly to families. We are also supporting 300+ workers to file for unemployment benefits, food stamps, paid sick leave, etc. For the many undocumented families who are ineligible for these benefits or do not want to apply because it could jeopardize their citizenship applications, we are providing other financial support to stem the crisis.
We are putting people back to work by hiring entirely from our community additional staff to run our pop-up food pantry, deliver meals, and implement other emergency expansions of services in Chelsea. A group of jornaleros (day laborers) in Chelsea, who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdown, have also come together to produce medical masks and help undocumented families in Chelsea weather the financial crisis. The jornaleros are sewing proper masks to protect Chelsea's first responders and residents from the spread of the virus. Masks are being sold for $10 each and the proceeds are going to support undocumented families who are not eligible for unemployment benefits. 1,000+ masks have already been sewn and distributed with more on the way.