As the year draws to a close, it is safe to say that the last two months have been absolutely harrowing. Widespread flooding and disruption to people’s lives in Skagit and Whatcom counties, the emergence of yet another COVID-19 variant and the malaise that is ever present during a “100-year” event that is slowly approaching a third year. The point of this being, of course, that people are still in a state of emergency and thus are still in need of active material support.
As we look back over the last year —I would argue the last two years as it feels that 2020 blended into 2021 — we catch a retrospective glimpse at the totality of this multi-pronged crisis and its impact on marginalized communities, regardless of which political party is in power. The pandemic, as well as the recent challenges with severe weather, have laid this unequal infrastructure bare. As these events have certainly had a negative impact on all, people who are on the social and economic margins have fared worse than their economically privileged neighbors.
Policy briefs under the “Understanding Washington Latinos’ Experiences around COVID-19” series, published by the University of Washington’s Latino Center for Health, offer a more nuanced incursion into this larger theme. The research unit, which aims to use community-based research to influence social work and public health practice and policy, has followed the trajectory of the pandemic and its impact in Washington state. Their findings confirm what many of us feared, that we are systemically poorly equipped to meet the needs of our communities in a state of calamity. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated these conditions and has had an acute impact when also factoring in race, class, gender, nationality, documented status and other identifiers.
Most recently, the center unveiled a policy brief which lays out a strategic plan and a call for culturally responsive policies for the COVID-19 recovery. These recommendations include proactive information distribution that is multicultural and multilingual; increased number of multicultural and multilingual mental health care providers; the development and implementation of trauma-informed training for educators; mandated sick leave for all workers (regardless of documentation); and increased funding for relief services that provide mutual aid and public health services.
These policy recommendations, though geared toward the Latino community in Washington, can also be applied and replicated in other communities as well. The need for structural support, culturally responsive services and a reimagining of education and health systems are critical for addressing the toll that the pandemic has taken on our communities. The lack of access to proper health and social services has led to disproportionate impacts on poor people and communities of color. We must collectively build better.
Read more of the Dec. 22-28, 2021 issue.