Bymaster: Actions, not words, needed to help poor families during pandemic
The new United Against the Poverty Pandemic campaign asks wealthy South Bay residents to help those living in poverty. File photo.

In Santa Clara County today, there are 14,600 families at imminent risk of homelessness when the eviction moratorium expires Jan. 31.

Before COVID-19, there were 58,000 families in Silicon Valley living on $15,000 to $35,000 a year, barely making ends meet in one of the most expensive rental markets in the nation.

At Healing Grove Health Center, a nonprofit clinic serving extremely-low income Latinos in San Jose, our average family made $27,600 pre-COVID, and paid $18,600 annually in rent. When we surveyed those same families after the COVID shutdown in April, they were making on average $220 per month. We surveyed them again in September and their average income had risen to just $950 per month.

Many families are now six months behind on rent; they will never catch up.

At Healing Grove, we’ve tested more than 3,000 low-income people of color for COVID-19. Our positivity rate averages 16% as compared to the county’s rate of 3% in the general population. Low-income people of color are being ravaged by this disease, both financially and physically.

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted low-income people of color.

I have a serious concern about that statement. It’s not the statement itself that bothers me; it’s unquestionably true. My problem is with the punctuation.

I’ve heard and read that statement hundreds of times, almost always followed by a period. With a period at the end, it becomes a fact. Putting a period after this statement makes my blood boil. It makes my low-income friends and neighbors the unnecessary victims of ruthless systemic racism and poverty.

I am a Christian. As a follower of Jesus I am compelled to stand up against racism and poverty, and fight as a servant of the blessed. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

I refuse to put a period after that statement about COVID-19’s impacts on the blesseds, and I want to ask you to do the same. Please follow those words with a comma and four life-changing words.

COVID has disproportionately impacted low-income people of color, and I will sacrifice.

And I will sacrifice. Please notice the personal pronoun. It’s not in the third person. I’m not asking for the federal government to pass another stimulus plan. I’m not asking for Sacramento or the city or the county to fix this problem. I’m talking about me, and you.

I’ve noticed a fairy tale narrative in Santa Clara County. It goes something like this: “If we can just get the right person in the White House then we will be able to solve systemic poverty and systemic racism here in Silicon Valley.”

I have a mixed-race family. We attended a Black Lives Matter march, including my two-year-old African granddaughter and 10-year-old Caucasian son. I was so proud to see my community out in the streets gathered together in the fight against injustice.

After the protest, I came home to the Washington-Guadalupe community where our family lives, one of the poorest communities in San Jose, and told some of my low-income Latino friends about the march. Their reaction knocked me off my feet.

“You march but do you actually care?”

They were essentially asking, is the statement Black Lives Matter followed by a period or a comma? Let me be clear. Nice feelings towards people of color won’t undo centuries of oppression. It’s going to take far more than that: a comma and four words.

The irony couldn’t run deeper. As tens of thousands take to the streets to march for the end of systemic racism, the racial poverty gap has exploded.

If you’re lucky enough to have a college education that allows you to telecommute to work, then you’re probably doing just fine. But if you’re a low-income person of color, the government has demanded that you stop working, without compensation.

On the surface, it’s not a racist policy. It was designed to keep us all safe. But the effect of the policy couldn’t be more racist. Low-income people of color have been launched into unprecedented poverty while they are three times more likely to die of the disease we’re supposed to be protecting them against as they deliver our food, stock our shelves, cook our food and build our buildings, all while teetering on the brink of homelessness.

Protesting is cheap. Marching is cheap. A “BLM” sign in your front yard is cheap. Posting on Facebook is cheap. Voting for the right guy for president is cheap. Sacrifice is costly.

I’d like to invite you to become a part of a movement of people who want to serve the blesseds with a comma and four words. It’s called United Against the Poverty Pandemic. It’s a movement launched by Christians who are inspired by the sacrifice of Jesus and want to see pandemic poverty eradicated.

It’s a movement to unite the left and the right, people of different faiths and people of different backgrounds and races in a common goal. We’re calling on Silicon Valley to do three things:

Pray for boldness in the face of COVID fear.

Give with radical generosity.

Employ displaced workers in your homes and businesses.

According to U.S. Census data, there are 160,000 families in Santa Clara that make more than $200,000 per year. If each of those households gave just $730, we could wipe out the $117 million rent debt of extremely low-income families in Santa Clara County. If we unite, we really can do this.

What sacrifice will you make?  Learn more at http://povertypandemic.org/.

Brett Bymaster is executive director of Healing Grove Health Center.

 

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