December 11, 2020
It has been nearly nine months since the pandemic visibly altered the lives of New Yorkers with the closing of non-essential businesses and implementation of health/safety preventative practices. As our city and state grappled with the realities of confronting the pandemic, we experienced pivotal changes overnight: offices and streets emptied, restaurants and stores closed, subway cars carried fewer people by the millions, schools closed and children were stuck at home, and millions lost jobs or were furloughed.
To face this pandemic, CCC has worked to examine data – to call attention to heightened needs, inequities that exist, and the policy and budget solutions that are critical to New Yorkers right now and essential to promote recovery.
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One of the ways we have engaged in pandemic response efforts is with our learning collaborative of organizations who work with parents and residents representing communities across New York City. These partners – Hunts Point Alliance for Children, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University, Staten Island Alliance for North Shore Children & Families, South Bronx Rising Together, and United for Brownsville – represent collective impact groups, community-based organizations, and medical institutions committed to improving the lives of children, youth, and families across New York. In the last few years, members of this collaborative have worked with us on several initiatives including:
With the emergence of COVID-19, our work with learning collaborative partners shifted to better understand and address the critical needs children and families are facing that are caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. To learn more about the pandemic’s impact on New York communities, we held several conversations with members of the learning collaborative and with community members about the most critical issues and solutions needed to overcome the challenges they now face. Through these conversations, we’ve heard from New Yorkers about their experiences during the pandemic, the impact on their lives/communities they live in, and solutions we need today to ensure equitable well-being for all. Over the course of this blog series, we will be sharing with you:
While the needs and issues raised are many, our posts in this series will focus on several key issue areas. A high-level summary of these issues includes:
Our first post in the series will focus on addressing children’s needs, highlighting the connection between quality education, social connections for youth, and behavioral health supports. Through our conversations, some of the repeated themes of challenges families, children, and youth are facing include: preventing learning loss between in-school and remote learning, the lack of enriching and engaging opportunities for youth to socially connect with their peers, and heightened stress and anxiety young people are experiencing in a time where adequate behavioral health supports are not always present. We know families are making tough choices as they juggle health and safety concerns with the needs of their children and of the family. Together, we must ensure that children’s needs are adequately addressed with sufficient support and investment in a continuum through education supports and behavioral health services, among others.
Our second post in this series will focus on the need to ensure equitable access to essential resources and services for all New Yorkers. A point raised by parents and partners we spoke with, not all neighborhoods have equitable access to resources, with neighborhoods that are home to Black and Brown New Yorkers often receiving the fewest investments. These disparities existed prior to the pandemic and are particularly problematic now, and communities are doing all they can to ensure friends, families, neighbors get through the pandemic. We know that local organizations and everyday people have stepped up to become vital lifelines for communities and families to ensure that they can pay rent, have enough nutritious food on the table, can purchase household goods such as cleaning supplies and essentials such as toilet paper, and have access to adequate healthcare services, and more. While these essential short-term supports are life-saving, advocacy is needed to address historic inequities. We must leverage pandemic recovery efforts to ensure that income, zip codes, and long-standing inequalities are addressed and no longer determine one’s access to critical resources and services.
Our third post will focus on two components related to achieving economic equity – addressing job/income loss and housing affordability. The reality echoed in our conversations is that economic inequality in communities across the city has existed long before 2020 and presents a major barrier to fully addressing everyday issues such as affordable and stable housing and access to jobs and a reliable source of income. The pandemic has only served to widen the economic disparities across NYC. People we spoke with consistently expressed the challenge of lack of jobs and/or inability to work remotely as a barrier to begin a meaningfully economic recovery. For some families and residents the lack of jobs, stable income, or any prospect for growth in wealth and their prospects for recovery are profoundly restricted. In addition, many more New Yorkers are now faced with an affordability, eviction, and homelessness crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. A record number of families are concerned about affording their most essential needs including paying rent. The need to address inequities in access to income and wealth building opportunities, including strengthening pathways to employment that pays a living wage, income support, and housing affordability is essential to an equitable recovery process for New York communities.
Throughout the series we will also be highlighting the way the existing digital divide intersects with challenges brought on by the pandemic. Over the course of a few days and week — in homes, workplaces, educators, institutions, government – cellular and broadband internet service became a critical and sometimes the only way to engage, communicate, access, and fulfill every day needs and activities. This dynamic most notably played out over the spring, summer, and fall as parents and students encountered barriers to education due to limited or no internet access or digital devices to engage in remote learning. This is complicated by the tight link between internet access and learning as unique solutions are required for different households including families living in shelters or temporary housing, younger students, students with a disability, and students/parents who are learning English as a second language. Digital inequity in the form of limited broadband internet access and technology devices clearly continue to pose challenges in households that do not have broadband internet access and require internet connected devices. With over 150,000 children living in households without internet access, efforts have been underway in communities across New York City to provide internet and devices to families and more must be done. In addition to needing internet and digital devices to engage in remote learning, families also now need increased access to these tools to apply for jobs, find/access/apply to essential services, access public benefits such as unemployment benefits and SNAP, engage in tele health and tele therapy services, schedule and manage meal deliveries, connect with friends and family, for social connection and fun, and to stay up to date on health and safety information in the middle of a pandemic. Digital equity – especially during a pandemic – is an essential to ensuring economic equity, ensuring all children’s needs are addressed, and providing the access and resources needed for families to receive food, essential goods, and critical services.
The pandemic changed the lives of every person, and for many people that has meant a struggle for survival. Black and Brown New Yorkers, immigrants, households experiencing poverty and homelessness, and those faced with structural and institutional barriers created by racism and wealth inequality, are struggling now more than ever. Nine months in, families and communities are just trying to survive. The pandemic has both widened and deepened the challenges children and families are facing. Yet communities have risen to the challenges of the pandemic, undertaking herculean efforts to provide the most essential needs such as food, home necessities and sanitation goods, income, shelter and much more. As relief and recovery efforts move forward, the importance of ensuring ‘community voice matters’ cannot be overstated. It is critical to engage members of hard hit communities to share their experiences, illustrate the impact of the pandemic, and ensure that their voices elevated to shape policies/decisions being made that affect their very lives. In publishing this blog series, we hope to shed further light on child, family and community needs and to call attention to equitable solutions for recovery. Importantly, this effort also emphasizes the role community members should have in shaping and driving recovery efforts at the most local level within their neighborhoods. We’ll leave you here for now with words echoed to you from one of the parents we interviewed: “Come spend a month [with us], rent one of these apartments, come live with us for a month. That is all I ask, come live with us for a month. Experience it, live it, because if you don’t live it, you’re not going to know what we’re going through.” – Carmen R.
Check out CCC’s COVID-19 resource page with information for New Yorkers who need to access food and income supports, health and mental health care, remote learning resources, and more. You can contact our Community Outreach & Engagement associate at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about this series or our child and family advocacy efforts.