By Pete White

Op-Ed

We’ve heard the rally cry, “stay home to save lives” echoing throughout our communities across the nation during the pandemic. But for thousands of our houseless community members and those without stable homes, this mandate to remain inside isn’t a realistic option.

Now, as restrictions on businesses begin to slowly lift and the state continues to introduce its plans for reopening, it will be up to the people to determine how we will continue fighting this pandemic day-by-day—and make sure our houseless community members are not left behind.

Thankfully, this month U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has ordered L.A. county and city to find shelter for the nearly 7,000 people living near local freeways. This is just one step of many that we must take if we truly intend to win the long-term fight against houselessness.

At the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) we know all too well how everyday difficulties are magnified for this vulnerable community. Houseless communities face a higher risk of contracting diseases and illnesses like COVID-19 due to pre-existing conditions, and they are often unable to self-quarantine in a stable and clean environment.

Our mutual aid program is helping to maintain the health of our houseless neighbors from financial assistance to food to hygiene products. We feel the pressure like never before to also educate our community on the best ways to stay safe and civically engaged, in an effort to help avoid this type of mayhem from happening again in the future.

Mutual aid programs are a part of the legacy and tradition of Black communities throughout America and the Diaspora. From sou-sou origins in West Africa to the Black mutual aid societies during Jim Crow and the Black Liberation Movements in the 1960’s, our communities have always been able to tap into our collective power by using mutual aid programs as a way to care and look out for one another.

While we are overjoyed with gratitude for the local business owners and volunteers who are supporting our most vulnerable community members during this time, 2020 is the year that requires more from everyone in America; and in a big way.

In addition to the upcoming November elections — our more immediate civic duty is to ensure that everyone in our community participates in the 2020 census. The census takes place every 10 years and is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is designed to make sure that everyone living in America is represented as part of our democracy, whether houseless, native-born, an immigrant or a refugee. When we are all accurately counted in the census, our communities receive their fair share of public resources. Billions of dollars are directed to programs that impact our daily lives and that our communities need to thrive.

LACAN is a part of a coalition of more than 30 grassroots organizations headquartered throughout California. We are a Hub of community-forward organizers who have bonded together and are calling on communities of color to participate in the 2020 census. Our campaign and anthem is, My Black Counts.

At LACAN, we’ve had to pivot our priorities and day-to-day responsibilities since COVID hit in order to better service the immediate, and often life-or-death needs of the neighbors we service.

We’ve partnered with local nonprofits and volunteers in order to kick our mutual aid program into high-gear.

While our organization’s pre-COVID plan for counting houseless people during the 2020 census survey was less than desirable because of the difficulty of the task, the situation is now very dire. Census enumeration must be adapted to ensure an adequate response rate is achieved.

That’s why we’ve included My Black Counts educational materials in our mutual aid support bags for houseless community members to learn more about our Get-Out-the-Count movement.

New and creative methods of outreach should be considered during this time. It may mean non-traditional methods are utilized to provide a count that realizes the actual needs of the houseless and other vulnerable communities. Without an accurate count, our communities are at risk of being under-resourced if another pandemic impacts us in the future.

Following the 2010 census, more than more than 300 federally-funded programs relied on census data to determine where and how to distribute resources. Unfortunately, more than $650 million in federal funding was lost in Los Angeles County alone, because of low participation. Billions of dollars in public funding are at stake. Join us.

Your participation in the 2020 census could help save lives.