Living and Surviving During a Pandemic
Living Hope technologist Guillermo "Memo" De la Rosa reaching out to community members during the stay at home order.
Individually, our members are always preparing for the worst.
As an organization, we’ve been constantly preparing. Whether it’s due to a hurricane, refinery chemical leak or the escalation of raids on our community by ICE, we’ve always been preparing.
Here’s what we’ve been up to.
We are following the safest protocols we have. We are social distancing from others, wearing face masks and constantly cleaning and disinfecting our office and homes. We always use hand sanitizers and soap and water to stay clean. Our staff is limited, alternating work days. Most of us work from home.
Can we do tomorrow what we were doing yesterday no matter what happens today?
Living Hope has been developing our continuity of operations plan (COOP) to help us answer this key question (paraphrasing Paul Diamond, Kuali Ready Council Chair): can we do tomorrow what we were doing yesterday no matter what happens today? Or to put it in a different way, can we still carry out our mission and vision in the context of a disaster?
Thanks to our struggle in developing our COOP plan over the last 9 months, the answer is mostly yes!
We know most of our members have preexisting medical conditions that make them highly vulnerable to the effects of COVID 19. In order to protect ourselves we've taken some steps.
We’ve always been in constant communication with our community and we still are, just in a different manner. We call individuals on the phone and groups using videoconferencing software. In these meetings which are part of our Quality of Life Promoters program, we have been covering topics such as health, transportation and dealing with chronic pain and stress. We are also making sure we communicate information in a manner that our community can understand. Our calls tend to run over the time allotted but it’s OK since our goal is to inform to the best of our ability.
We have been developing a promotoras-based disaster preparedness training based on the thoughtful materials developed by Church World Services and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, HILSC. They also helped sponsor our first in-person disaster preparedness training. We are now getting ready for hurricane season. We're building on that initial training. We're also doing it virtually.
Supplies and DME (Durable Medical Equipment)
Back in mid-February we made a couple of decisions. First, we decided to immediately distribute everyone's monthly allotment of medical supplies. Then the team also decided to give out a two-month allotment instead of one. We mobilized members and volunteers to pick up supplies for our members. For those that did not have anyone to pick up their supplies we took their supplies to them. We didn’t know at the time how bad Covid-19 would hit but we wanted to be ready. Thanks to our COOP planning we were mostly ready.
Quality of Life
In our quality of life program we knew we could not have our monthly in-person meetings so we started having our interactions with our community online and on the phone. In order to overcome the digital divide (many of our members do not have access to computers and video calls or do not know how to use all the features on their phones) we are using tools like What’s App for group messaging and UberConference which let’s us dial everyone at once so all our members have to do is answer their phone. No computer (or instructions) needed.
We also have a team of people that are calling our members and just checking in. We listen, engage in conversation and ask a few questions too. We ask questions regarding their well-being, their access to food and medical supplies. We try to refer them to agencies and other institutions that might be able to provide help but most importantly we remind them they are not alone and we are still a community.
Since Hurricane Harvey, we have been investing time and resources in the ability to respond to disasters. We view disasters as intense natural events but also as pre-existing policies and structures that disrupt everyday life, cause suffering and death. We know at Living Hope that disasters have material, health (physical and mental) and socioeconomic impact. We’ve known at Living Hope that a disaster involves all three. Unfortunately most everyone now knows this too.
We have been talking with both METRO Houston and the Mayor's Office of People With Disabilities,MOPD, to respond to the needs of the larger community of people with disabilities in the greater Houston area, particularly regarding food security. They decided to organize a much-needed food drive and delivery operation to people with a disability. We are also supporting the leadership of County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to allocate relief resources in a way that includes most vulnerable populations and does not discriminate against immigrant communities.
We’ve been investing time and resources in our systems to better respond to the needs of our community. It’s a work in progress but we are advancing. Living Hope uses a secure, world-class database to track interactions with our members as well as to survey our members on any relevant topic. The database helps us focus on the actual needs of our members. We have also been investing time in training our core team of community leaders in data, workflow processes, online security, software such as spreadsheets and other online office tools. The training is ongoing. It’s reassuring that we can, at a moment's notice, pull up relevant data that will help us meet the needs of our members as well as help us tell the story of what’s happening in the life of our community.
We’re not in this alone. Every step of the way we have been encouraged and supported by many individuals, organizations and foundations. These institutions and individuals have believed in how we are approaching our organizing, advocacy and service delivery. A big shout out goes to HILSC, The Novo Foundation,the UUSC, The Simmons Foundation, CWS, The Dominican Sisters of Houston, The Marek Family Foundation , The Praxis Project, The Greater Houston Community Foundation, the Sierra Club and all the amazing individual donors that support our work.