Social distancing” or really for what many has deemed “physical distancing” has all but put a stop to communities connecting in large gatherings or for the that matter at all across the country. The Coronavirus continues to have larger impacts on many urban communities and specifically communities of color. These important combined factors with Governor Tony Ever’s #SaferatHome, order which has been extended to May 26th in Wisconsin, has greatly impacted how Near West Side Partners is doing community organizing these days.
What does community organizing look like in the era of COVID-19?
Here in the Near West Side we are focused on some key messages and objectives as we retool our community organizing strategy. Our key message is that the safety of our community and lives of the people who live and work here are most important to what we do. This has been reflected in our cancellation of all of our public meetings and all staff except NWSP Safety Ambassadors working remotely.
Canceling public meetings and having staff work remotely has been difficult however we have been to overcome these challenges with planning, technology and ingenuity. Webinars, like for many of us, are apart of our daily lives. Social media including Instagram and Facebook play a role in sharing our message. We are posting and sharing videos from our YouTube channel to speak directly and get messaging out to the community. And most importantly, direct emails to our businesses and residents has increased allowing our businesses and residents to get the latest information as it comes across the internet.
Another message we value and will continue to share is the “Slow the Spread” campaign. This campaign supported by our valued partner Advocate Aurora Health is very important as we see our community with higher rates of COVID-19 cases. Urban centers like the Near West Side have higher population rates with underlying health considerations, multi-generational living and many hourly workers that supply our food, deliveries, banking services and are not able to work remotely.
NWSP was able to work with Marquayla Ellison of Ellastic Designs, a local graphic firm to design posters, yard signs and stencils for public sidewalks that will get the message to many of the areas where people in our community congregate including bus stops, corner stores and multi-unit buildings. This “Slow the Spread” message will be important to the long term health of our community.
One of our objectives is to support our most vulnerable populations, so as we work towards getting the “Slow the Spread” message out to the community, we are also coordinating efforts to accept and distribute donations for essentials like face masks, sanitizer, laundry detergent and other supplies to our seniors and disabled in public housing. There are 350 units of public housing at just two sites alone in the Near West Side and many of these individuals are disabled, bound to a wheel chair, scooter or walker.
Supporting our residents in this situation is important to health and well-being of our entire community. So NWSP staff have dedicated office hours at the Near West Side Waypoint, 1201Q N. 35th Street (on Harley-Davidson’s campus), 9am – 10am, Tuesday and Thursday for those who would like to drop of the donations. We then work with Housing Authority Staff to safely deliver these donation to College Court and Merrill Park sites.
Lastly, as a community organization we will look towards the future and start with residents and businesses on what does the slow re-opening of our community look like. What standards and practices make sense for us as we get back in the next few months to some sense of normalcy. There will be more to come on this
Community organizing is as important then ever as we combat this global health crisis working with our residents, businesses and partners. So despite the limits that physical distancing presents the Near West Side Partners is still here and we will continue our mission of making the Near West Side a safe and quality place for the people, who live, work and play in our community.