On dysfunction and hope

The quotes below are from people applying to the Somerville Cares Fund, an emergency relief fund established in April to stem the economic impacts of COVID-19 on local residents. To date, the fund has raised and distributed over $500,000, and the need has been overwhelming – an interim report (released in late June) shared that the average grant has been less than $700 per family, with far more demand than resources could meet.

Together, people can support one another. We should. But the erosion of a social safety net has very real consequences.

I work and live in a rented room with my 2 daughters. I don’t have any way of paying the rent, and I’m desperate to the point of attempting suicide. I work with a group cleaning houses in Somerville, but due to the virus, they’ve cancelled and I’m without work.  My telephone has been cut off, if you need to speak to me, send me an email — I can still access that. (translated from Portuguese)

We have no income and we are desperate. (translated from Spanish)

I don’t have money to pay my rent and my saved money to buy food is running out. I’m scared.

I’m very affected because I am unemployed and I need help to pay my rent and buy food. I’m COVID positive, and isolated with my roommates. (translated from Spanish)

It’s difficult to pay the rent because my spouse is without work because we tested positive for COVID. (translated from Spanish)

The weight of 156,000 people in the U.S. having died of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands facing difficult recoveries from this disease, the impacts of structural racism illuminated in disproportionate burden and pain, is beyond heavy. And there is so much stress, fear, and mourning that should never have even occurred. The level of dysfunction in structuring a cohesive U.S. response to the pandemic is so severe that it amounts to violence.

It is not necessary for people to fall into poverty, to lose health care access, to make impossible choices about childcare and schools, to put themselves at excess risk of infection at work, in order to fight COVID-19. Disregard for investment in public health and social determinants is, and has been, a choice. Congress’s failure to extend expanded unemployment benefits last week created a chasm that no one should have to fall into — on top of the millions of people who were excluded from accessing even those benefits in the first place. The policy decisions around who and what “deserves” funding are telling.

Every day, I see people and institutions leading with social justice, racial equity, and science as guiding principles and methods, but it is exhausting to have this work undermined by misguided or malicious policy and narrative. I see the needs and strengths of people unjustly in harm’s way being recognized and elevated, but the gap between reactionary response and systemic shifting of power and priorities is wide. I see people who have the privilege to distance themselves from suffering instead channeling resources to support solutions, but individual actions do not always scale. Every day, I see possibility and barriers. And it is in that seeing that I know we cannot give up.

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