We, the undersigned, are demanding that Mayor Stoney and the Government of the City of Richmond immediately implement a response to the coronavirus pandemic that places the needs of Richmond’s most vulnerable groups first.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Virginia and the world, a large network of activists and community organizers have come together to discuss the ramifications of U.S. infrastructure on public health. Outbreaks of the virus are expected to grow exponentially over the coming weeks and will place significant stress on our health system for months to come. While some countries, such as China, were able to respond quickly to COVID-19 and “flatten the curve,” the U.S. response has been much slower. In order to avoid unfathomably tragic consequences, we must act immediately to make up for lost time. Many Americans lack access to healthcare, paid sick leave, and other services that would delay the spread of the virus and mitigate its effects. While this needs to be dealt with on a national level, we as community organizers in Richmond, Virginia demand that our elected officials set an example for other cities by adjusting local policy to bring relief immediately to those who are most vulnerable.
We are about to enter new territory, as this pandemic is predicted to be unlike anything we have previously faced in our lifetimes. The choice is clear: ensure that resources are shared and the needs of all are met, or continue to withhold necessities from those who need them most to the ultimate detriment of all. We demand the following five points be adopted to ensure that the people of Richmond make it through this crisis with the least amount of suffering possible.
A Pandemic Platform for the People of Richmond:
1) FREE HEALTHCARE
Testing, treatment, and healthcare must be made available free of cost immediately. Tests and treatment that require fees or quality health insurance are not accessible to poor and working-class communities. Making testing free will ensure that anyone who shows symptoms is able to definitively determine whether or not they have COVID-19. Quarantine and treatment can then be thoroughly implemented for everyone who contracts the disease, decreasing the potential for its spread. It is vital that individuals, especially those without adequate financial resources, are not punished for a public health issue. Therefore, in addition to free testing, we also demand that all treatment be made free of cost as well.
2) NO WORK
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 70,000 people in Richmond work in the leisure and hospitality sector. This provides a conservative estimate of Richmond residents with precarious sources of income, many of whom are already being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The city is beginning to witness the shutdown of numerous bars and restaurants, along with a reduction in hours at many other service sector businesses. Numerous workers in other sectors will undoubtedly be impacted by closures as well. These workers, and all residents of Richmond, must immediately have paid sick leave, emergency funds, and food stamps made available to them.
As slow-downs, layoffs, and hour reductions increase in the coming weeks it will become increasingly important that local workers are able to acquire the resources necessary for their survival. Beyond alleviating the financial burden of the crisis, making paid sick leave, emergency funds, and food stamps available to all residents will have important impacts on controlling the spread of the disease. Allowing all Richmonders to stay home without economic penalty will afford them the ability to self-quarantine, take care of family and loved ones, and seek medical treatment as necessary. No one should be forced to compromise their medical or financial well-being in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
3) NO PAYING – NO DEBT
With pandemic-related disruptions to work schedules, combined with a lack of paid time off, workers will not be able to pay rent, mortgages, or utilities. We are demanding not only a moratorium on rent, mortgage, and utility payments during this crisis but also universal debt forgiveness for any missed payments. The swiftly rising rent and consistently high eviction rates in Richmond make clear that workers struggle to make rent even under ideal conditions with ample available work. Should workers experience a disruption to their work schedule and subsequent lack of income, paying multiple months of rent will not be feasible, making the demand for debt forgiveness an essential aspect of a responsible community response to COVID-19. As Richmond has the second highest eviction rate in the country, at 11% annually, it is also critical that the city halt all evictions and foreclosures until the pandemic has ended. Eviction alone is a traumatic attack on people’s health and wellbeing based on their financial status. In the context of a pandemic, eviction is a court-mandated sentence to sickness and death. We must immediately end such unnecessary cruelty.
4) FREE THE PRISONERS
We support the demand of the Richmond Community Bail Fund to halt new jail admissions and grant amnesty and pardons to all people detained in Richmond facilities, prompting their release in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in jails. We further demand that the City of Richmond cease all cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I.C.E.’s raids against undocumented people have always been cruel, and to continue raids during a pandemic is unconscionable. Jails, prisons, and detention centers are regularly the sites of public health crises, even without the threat of a full-blown pandemic. These institutions lack adequate physical space, sanitary systems, and healthcare capacity to deal with a widespread coronavirus outbreak. We ask that all persons released from detention be provided with adequate care for their needs and their health.
5) HOMES FOR ALL
Houseless people are likely to be among the most affected by COVID-19. Reasons for this include lack of access to clean water for hand washing and overcrowding of shelters in addition to compromised immune systems due to other health complications and the sheer physiological stress of daily living. Because Richmond only provides shelter during cold weather, the physiological stress on our houseless community members is even greater than that of other cities. Luckily, the city has plenty of unused space in the empty Coliseum and other venues that can be turned into safe and sanitary living space for those who need it. We demand the immediate fitting of vacant venues for safe and sanitary shelter of the houseless community.