Jun 29, 2020
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
We are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. Unfortunately, the racism and disparity freshly (re)exposed in this pandemic is not unprecedented. It is the precedent our country is built on. Coronavirus is highlighting this more than any other - affecting the elderly, the medically compromised, the workers packed into small rooms due to unaffordable housing, the uninsured, the poor who can’t afford to stay home and quarantine, the homeless. Yet unlike previous disasters, something is different with COVID-19. This time the spread of coronavirus in any population affects everyone. Public health at large is protected only when the health of the vulnerable is also protected.
With protecting the overall public health in mind, my office has been collaborating with West County Community Services, West County Health, Regional Parks, and the CDC to stand up a temporary COVID 19 Navigation Site, that will allow us to respond to the public health risk posed by the potential for coronavirus to spread throughout the homeless population and to the public. This proposed site will be in the Guerneville area and based on successful models that have been stood up in other places around the County – SSU and Finley in Santa Rosa, Los Guilicos in Oakmont.
This Guerneville area site is designed to alleviate many of the current issues with the homeless population, providing:
• health care in a consistent, stable environment.
• navigation case work – helping transition this population into permanent housing or appropriate drug/alcohol/mental health services
• food and shelter that will keep them off the streets, with enough room for social distancing and for their belongings
• a safe, fenced environment for both the population and their neighbors
With 24/7 staffing, this site will also protect the community against fire danger from encampments in the brush and will be managed by West County Community Services and funded by the CDC from State and Federal grant funds.
While the site will accommodate 25-30 people at a time, space will open up as the clients move into permanent housing or services, allowing for more to move in. The first priority for the spaces will be those in the winter shelter now and those currently in Downtown Guerneville. This site will enable West County Community Services and West County Health to assess and treat our medically fragile homeless population, moving those who show signs of illness to isolation or quarantine to alternate sites should disease appear. We will keep the community apprised on site selection as this develops.
The news that this pandemic is affecting our latinx community at much greater rates than the overall population is a jarring reminder that the racism and disparity freshly (re)exposed in this pandemic is not unprecedented. It is the precedent our country is built on and that foundation which the #blacklivesmatter protests are fighting to dismantle. In 1967, a similar period of unrest, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that riots are “socially destructive and self-defeating,” but went on to say “It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.”
“In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard,” said Dr. King. “As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
America has postponed racial justice for 400 years. We cannot gasp, clutch our pearls, and act shocked to see people take to the streets now. People take to the streets in solidarity, yes, but also in frustration, despair, grief, and anger.
So, what now? What do we do with our collective rage and grief? We can’t just sit around and talk about it on social media. If I, as a white person, say “I’m sorry, I feel your pain, I acknowledge the disparity”... what does that do? I don’t deserve one tiny shred of credit for saying something. What am I actually DOING? How am I actually using my influence as a mother, as a human, and as a leader to drive change?
As humans, we can stand in solidarity with peaceful protests. As white humans, rather than allowing our voices to dominate the discussion, we can step back and make space for the voices of people of color. We can support and lift up leaders of color. We can respond thoughtfully, rather than defensively, when our own actions, perspective, and privilege are discussed.
And what we can do as leaders is to focus on EQUITY. Equity is different than equality. Equity recognizes that we don’t all start out on equal footing. That some communities may need more assistance and support than others in order to level the playing field.
I’m proud that in West County, we put our money where our mouth is — funding targeted support for undocumented community members through Fifth District discretionary dollars. Working within the County budget process we are examining the duties and funding of the Sheriff’s office and assessing having calls on issues that involve non-violent, mental health, or emergency assistance to departments better suited to those situations.
I am working with my fellow Supervisors to strengthen IOLERO, the Independent Office for Law Enforcement Review and Outreach. The Board of Supervisors will appoint myself and Susan Gorin to an AdHoc focused on strengthening IOLERO and one of the first actions is to vote on providing subpoena powers to IOLERO to access information needed to fully investigate cases of excessive force.
You can read more on IOLERO here: IOLERO ORDINANCE BRIEF
I have had several heartfelt meetings with protestors and concerned citizens working on additional initiatives. Stay tuned for more.
With the opening of summer and the return to some normalcy with the re-opening of businesses, I encourage you all to stay safe and help keep others safe by wearing your masks, keeping your distance, and restricting unnecessary excursions. Our health and our economy are in a delicate balance. The best way to ensure that we can continue re-opening is to stick with these safety protocols.
Enjoy the outdoors and stay healthy!
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