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Marin Voice from CEO, Omar Carrera: Let COVID-19 be the reason we attack long-standing inequities

April 24, 2020

By OMAR CARRERA |April 20, 2020 at 11:51 am

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a perfect storm, inflicting tragic losses locally, across the nation and around the world.

The numbers of people and institutions impacted are staggering and their stories are both horrific and heroic: hospitals are overwhelmed by the virus, while health care workers, first responders, teachers, janitors, home caregivers and grocery and supermarket employees are risking their lives to provide essential services.

They are our front-line responders to a deadly contagion that has impacted our most vital institutions and illustrates just how ill-prepared and under-resourced our systems are.

While COVID-19 has created challenges in public health, business, the economy, education and lifestyle, it is also a brutal reminder of the inequities that existed before COVID-19. This crisis disproportionately affects people with lower incomes and fewer resources. These inequities are not exclusive to Marin, but are the result of obsolete systems that must be changed: “shelter in place,” social distancing, working from home, remote learning, access to health care coverage and paid sick leave are all privileges that many take for granted, and many others don’t have access to.

Canal Alliance has worked with and in this community for 38 years. We are deeply concerned about the health and welfare of our neighbors and clients.

The Canal neighborhood in San Rafael is Marin’s most densely populated area, with 12,000 residents in a 2-square-mile radius. Its historic lack of affordable housing forces many residents to live in overcrowded conditions. It is one thing to follow social-distancing guidelines and transition your children to virtual learning if you own your home; quite another if you live with a second family in a two-bedroom apartment and your children lack access to a laptop and the internet.

Crises can summon the best and the worst in communities. A bright light in the current pandemic has been the extraordinary cooperation and support we have received from the county, San Rafael, donors, volunteers and partner organizations.

As an example, the San Rafael City Schools administration is working with us to address the long-standing digital divide in our community so that kids in the Canal can participate in online learning and complete their schoolwork. But this crisis and the socio-economic fault lines it exposes will not end after the shelter-in-place order is lifted.

Perhaps the silver lining is that COVID-19 has given us the collective gift of seeing more clearly what some of us have always known: when one person lacks health care, all of us are at risk; if one person lacks housing, no one is secure; and when motivated and hard-working people can’t find work or must accept jobs that pay wages so low they cannot put money into savings, their poverty is our impoverishment as well.

We have an opportunity to work together to address long-standing inequities in California’s wealthiest county by changing the systems and policies that have abetted these inequities for far too long. This is a collective challenge that calls us to see more clearly, to try creative approaches and to continue to adapt quickly to this new world.

This is the time for organizations to adjust their business models to serve the needs of the whole community. This is the time to invest more in organizations that are providing crucial services. This is the time to implement policies that protect tenants, workers, and low-income communities. If we continue to work together, all of Marin will benefit.

To help hard-working members of Marin’s immigrant community to weather this crisis, Canal Alliance has established a COVID-19 Client Support Fund. All donations to the fund will provide direct cash assistance to individuals and families that have lost jobs or income, and are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. To make a donation, please visit: donate.canalalliance.org/covid.

Omar Carrera, of Corte Madera, is CEO of Canal Alliance.

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