January 5, 2022 | PressThought Leadership
Since March of 2020, the Oregon Public Health Institute’s (OPHI) Tracing Health team has helped communities stay safe and healthy through COVID-19 contact tracing. However, our pandemic response work has never been limited to contact tracing: over the past two years, the team has also helped community members access resources like grocery delivery during quarantine, connected vulnerable groups with vaccine appointments, and provided multilingual assistance at vaccine clinics.
As we welcome the New Year we want to highlight a surprising new critical effort that some Tracing Health team members are now engaged in, processing emergency rental assistance (ERA) in Washington County, Oregon. Oregon received millions in federal funding to help renters affected by the pandemic pay past-due rent and avoid eviction. Unfortunately, the high demand for these resources created an application backlog that has resulted in delays in getting renters’ bills paid, keeping their housing tenuous. In the fall of 2021, the Tracing Health team stepped up to assist Washington County in processing applications, giving more renters more security as the pandemic continues.
The connection between the pandemic and housing insecurity is clear: “If you ask them why they’re applying for rental assistance, ninety percent of my clients will say, ‘I lost my job due to being sick with COVID,’ or ‘I lost my job because there was no childcare for my kid,’ or ‘I had to stay home due to the schools closing,” said ERA team member Lorena Paredes. In helping renters access ERA funds, Tracing Health team members lean on the skills they developed in COVID-19 contact tracing. Paredes said, “the most important thing is just empathizing with the community and being there to provide the best possible services for them because everybody’s going through a tough time right now. For me, those are skills that have transferred over from my contact tracing work.”
Whether supporting people with COVID-19 or assisting them with rent assistance applications, Tracing Health staff know success depends on building trust and rapport with community members. “I always start with a joke or make a local reference if I know the area where they live, and that always helps them trust me and makes the conversation easier for us both,” says ERA team member Oscar Galeana.
Sadly, with the new year, we are seeing yet another new COVID-19 variant raging across the country. As the pandemic continues, the longer the economic consequences like housing insecurity will last, disproportionately impacting communities that already experience inequity. To build community resilience to future pandemics, it is essential that we not only work to mitigate the damage of the current pandemic but also address the systemic inequities that predate it. By meeting the needs of our communities through efforts like Emergency Rental Assistance, Tracing Health and its partners are alleviating the immediate impact of COVID-19 while building a foundation of health equity for the future.