Agencies collaborate to invest in culturally specific, community-based organizations, populations most affected by COVID-19
Salem, OR— Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) are teaming up to address COVID-19-related health inequities through a shared investment in more than 100 community-based organizations around the state.
“Health and housing are intimately linked,” said Andrea Bell, OHCS Director of Housing Stabilization. “This program is a critical tool to ensure urgent health needs of people experiencing homelessness and at-risk populations are addressed including Oregonians disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islander and Tribal Communities.”
The organizations were originally funded through OHA by the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds and those funds are set to expire on Dec. 30, 2020. The statewide network of community-based organizations has served individuals in isolation or quarantine through culturally responsive contact tracing services, community engagement and support services, like rental and utility assistance, food and medical supplies.
“We’re teaming up to develop new outreach strategies to keep this contagion from spreading while simultaneously ensuring people have the safe shelter they need to survive and thrive” said Dolly England, OHA Community Engagement Program manager. “Communities know how to do this work better than anyone else. OHA and OHCS are simply giving them the tools to be successful.”
After the pandemic started, numerous compounding health and housing challenges emerged during Oregon Statewide Unhoused Response and Recovery Network calls and cross-agency partnerships. State agencies traditionally focused on single issue areas are taking intentional steps to formulate holistic prevention and response approaches. Recent topics include winter shelters operating at reduced capacity in order comply with social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 along with ongoing initiatives to amplify culturally specific outreach.
“OHA’s 10-year goal is to eliminate health inequities,” said Cara Biddlecom, deputy public health director at OHA. “Our statewide health improvement plan, Healthier Together Oregon, articulates how we need to work across sectors and funding streams in order to undo systemic racism and oppression. We are grateful not only to OHCS’ leadership for this immediate investment in community-based organizations, but for their shared commitment and action as partners in the fight for racial justice.”
Healthier Together Oregon’s priorities around housing and racial justice are echoed in OHCS’ Statewide Housing Plan. Given these shared goals, and with COVID-19 cases on the rise, OHCS recognized the importance of continuing this innovative culturally specific housing outreach and made a one-time investment of funds previously allocated to OHCS during the 2019 Legislative Session. In addition to the funds invested by OHCS, OHA is investing federal grant funds to continue culturally and linguistically responsive COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantine support services. This shared program begins on Dec. 31, 2020, and runs through Jun. 30, 2021.
“Every day I work with people who are dealing with an illness that catches them off-guard with its intensity and leaves them at risk of homelessness, when they cannot pay their rent due to missing work while ill or caring for a sick loved one,” said Tara Gray, area coordinator with Community Services Consortium, a recipient of these grant funds. “I tell them that right now, with at least this one thing, we can help.”