Our Community Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching and long-lasting for our community — people who are currently and formerly incarcerated, and family and loved ones of people impacted by mass incarceration. Our community is disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are already experiencing economic insecurity, housing instability, and lack of access to healthcare due to historical and structural racism and oppression. The pandemic has made a challenging situation worse.
We do this work in community; this means that before we come forward with any solutions, we need to see who is already doing the work and then go and support them. Our opportunities for engagement are different and limited right now, so we wanted to find ways, even with physical distancing going on, where we can stay connected and support our community.
We are all experiencing the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19, and while we can’t anticipate every need and every impact, we know that by staying in relationship with our community, we will be able to be flexible and responsive as the situation continues to evolve.
We have developed a plan to respond to the emerging social and economic needs of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on what we know thus far, the following will meet some of the critical needs that are beginning to emerge in the wake of COVID-19.
1) Emergency Resources:
HOUSING: We are working to fill a gap in emergency housing, as transitional housing and shelters are not accepting any new residents. Housing remains the number one need reported by our community. We are collaborating with the Statewide Reentry Council to provide emergency housing funding for individuals and families.
HOUSEHOLD NEEDS: In addition, we are expanding our resource budget so that we have capacity to mobilize a greater variety of resources to a greater number of individuals and families in our community based on identified needs. Resources include but are not limited to: food, diapers, clothing, personal hygiene items, etc. and funds to cover the costs of shelter, utility bills, phone bills, gas, laundry, etc.
While our Reentry Resource Coordinator and Credible Allies CARE Coordinators connect people with existing and available resources, this funding will help fill the gap for those who are most marginalized and don’t have access and/or don’t meet the requirements for existing resources.
2) Community Organizing and Community Support:
Many of our community members are doing the work of bringing people together to share resources, share updates, support one another, and organize.
In order to support this work and provide some economic relief, we will offer our Zoom account as a platform for community members to gather virtually, and we will provide stipends to community members who facilitate circles and offer much needed support during this trying time.
Staff members will provide training, technical assistance, and logistical support to ensure that virtual circles are accessible and inclusive.
On March 16, we started offering “Virtual Community Circles” twice a day (Mon-Fri) and we’ve made a virtual meeting room available to the community. These rooms are accessible through the internet, but also by phone for people who don’t have internet access.
3) Communication and Connection:
We will provide funds for families and loved ones of incarcerated individuals who currently cannot afford the cost of communicating with their loved ones inside prison. This is especially critical as visitation and extended family visits are suspended indefinitely and the need for communication and connection increases. (Since DOC policy prohibits us from putting money on the phone accounts of incarcerated individuals, we will provide funds to loved ones and family members for their phone accounts.)
While this is not a budget item, we are concurrently developing a letter-writing campaign so that our volunteers can reach out to and connect with our community inside prison while the prisons are on lockdown and people cannot access JPay or phones.
4) Media, Advocacy, and Community Outreach:
In conjunction with supporting community organizing and community support, we need to increase resource networking and outreach around COVID-19 on social media and our communication platforms (website, email, etc.).
On March 19 we signed a letter with other community organizations and individuals demanding that Governor Inslee and the Department of Corrections protect the lives of incarcerated and detained individuals in Washington State by releasing all medically vulnerable adults and all people who do not pose a risk to public safety, suspending all probation and community custody violations, expanding preventative health care measures, installing more JPay kiosks, and provide access to communication with loved ones free of charge. We will continue advocacy and outreach efforts on behalf of our community members who are currently incarcerated and their families. (On April 10, the Washington State Supreme Court ordered the Governor to ensure the health and safety of everyone inside prison; and on April 12, the Governor announced the pending release of 1,100 people…)
We are also identifying a greater need to engage in organizing and advocacy efforts with and for our community around the distinct impacts they are experiencing with this crisis and we will offer stipends to community members to support this work.
5) Emergency Community Response Fund:
We are doing whatever we can to raise additional funds to meet the needs of our community, and have applied for three additional rapid response grants, are preparing an online fundraiser. While every bit helps, we know the needs will just keep increasing as this pandemic persists. If you are moved to help support our community during these trying times and you have the resources to take care of yourself, your family AND give to help someone else without causing undue hardship upon yourself, please go to the COVID-19 Response Donation Page.