COVID-19: Emerging Themes for Memphis - May 21, 2020

Unlike other disasters, we are not starting at the end; rather, we are starting at the beginning with little clarity on where things are headed. We must recognize this pandemic will have a very long tail and that successfully navigating these waters will require short-, medium-, and long-term interventions. It’s not just about addressing existing suffering - and there is plenty of that - it’s also about preventing as much future suffering as we can. 

In an effort to help solve the countless challenges associated with COVID-19, Slingshot has not stopped listening. Since April, our team has participated in hundreds of discussions with nonprofits and other respected stakeholders in Memphis’ poverty-fighting ecosystem. This outreach, coupled with Slingshot's evidence-based research, has surfaced several themes. Arming ourselves with the sort of information listed below is paramount to exiting this crisis in the best manner possible.  

Short-Term (<1 Month)

Incidents of domestic violence are rising behind the increase in risk factors and reporting barriers caused by social distancing and self-isolation 
  • Memphis law enforcement officials have shared their concerns about the increase in domestic violence observed since safer-at-home  orders have gone into effect

  • Research demonstrates that an increase in domestic violence rates is correlated with sheltering in place due to natural disasters and other crises¹

  • This phenomenon is already being observed globally with >25% increases reported across numerous countries² 

  • The probability of domestic violence increases with the combination of isolation, stress, economic uncertainty, unemployment, alcohol and other substance abuse, and lack of resources associated with COVID-19³

  • Fear of COVID 19 makes victims uncomfortable seeking safety in shelters and hotels while remaining in the same home as the perpetrator makes it hard to report domestic violence and to receive therapeutic services and safety planning using telehealth

  • Creative and potentially new efforts are needed to enable victims of domestic violence to report these crimes and receive protection from abusive situations

Communities of color face compounding factors that exacerbate the severity of COVID-19 

  • The legacy of structural barriers impedes opportunities for Memphis’ communities of color, leaving them in more vulnerable circumstances

  • Memphis' communities of color are often densely populated, making social distancing a challenge

  • Members of these communities comprise the majority of the spike in unemployment

  • For those who have kept jobs deemed essential, these jobs are disproportionately unable to be performed remotely and increase exposure to contracting COVID-19

  • African Americans, specifically, face higher potential for complications from COVID-19 due to increased prevalence of comorbidity - actual rates of contracting and dying from COVID-19 continue to be substantially higher than their proportion of the population4

  • COVID-19 relief efforts need to address the unique challenges facing communities of color in order to mitigate their disproportionate impact


Medium-Term (1-3 Months)

Under-resourced students face a summer slide exacerbated by the unprecedented COVID slide that will widen the achievement gap for these children and youth
  • On average, under-resourced children and youth see declines in their reading achievement levels over the summer compared to middle- and high-income students5

  • 50% of the gap in 9th-grade reading between low- and middle-income students may be explained by differences in summer learning that accumulated from 1st to 5th grade6

  • Research suggests that this summer slide is more pronounced, on average, for African American and Latino students in the United States7

  • The typical summer slide will be exacerbated by the closure of Shelby County Schools due to COVID-19 and the digital divide facing many local under-resource families

  • Typical summer programming and support for under-resourced children and youth are not being offered this summer due to restrictions on group gatherings and programs 

  • Innovative solutions such as virtual learning, school district support over the summer, and adaptive school calendars are needed to help mitigate the potential for a dramatic, and perhaps lasting, widening of the achievement gap

Mental health challenges are spiking and disproportionately impacting under-resourced populations
  • Recent studies show that 40%-60% of people surveyed are experiencing a decline in their mental health since the COVID-19 outbreak8,9

  • Local leaders have acknowledged this challenge as unlimited video, phone, or in-person counseling services are being offered to all Shelby County employees10

  • Research suggests that African Americans and people of color are disproportionately at risk for mental health challenges related to COVID-1911

  • Even before COVID-19, Tennessee and especially populous counties like Shelby County, faced a shortage of mental health providers12

  • Under-resourced families face significant barriers to access mental health care due to their lack of resources and availability of mental health providers in their neighborhoods

  • New virtual and/or in-person approaches to provide mental health services are needed to make them more accessible and cost-effective for under-resourced families

Those in contact with the criminal justice system face higher risks of COVID-19 and are at risk of losing many of the valuable supports that help their reintegration to society
  • Across the United States, jails and prisons are becoming epicenters for COVID-1913

  • In early May, the Shelby County Jail announced that over 70% of the 266 detainees and staff tested received positive results for COVID-19

  • The accelerated release of people from jails and prisons removes them from high-risk environments but is overwhelming the support infrastructure to help them reintegrate

  • While the demand for their services is growing, nonprofits providing reintegration support are already experiencing a reduction in government funding - including 75% of Slingshot’s relevant nonprofit partners

  • Continued public and private funding is required to ensure nonprofits can provide the needed support for people in contact with the criminal justice system

A growing wave of housing instability is building up behind the moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs
  • The moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs are providing an immediate reprieve for under-resourced families14

  • During the moratorium period, rent and utility bills are accumulating to amounts that will be difficult for families to immediately pay when the moratoriums are lifted

  • The inability to pay accumulated bills is being exacerbated by the enormous growth in unemployment and the depletion of family funds 

  • Additional funding and a structured support program will be needed to mitigate a delayed wave of housing instability and help those who fall into homelessness

Under-resourced communities are becoming more isolated as they face a digital divide that impedes their ability to stay connected
  • Nearly all public locations that provide free Internet connectivity (libraries, restaurants, etc.) are closed as well as government locations that provide discounted connectivity solutions

  • Spikes in unemployment exacerbate the already limited resources of families to obtain, and especially maintain, phone and Internet services

  • Children and college students in these communities lack access to laptops and internet connectivity to continue their studies from home

  • Increased isolation is creating opportunities for "hidden" crises that go unnoticed in these communities

  • Support is needed to provide families in these communities creative solutions to access available connectivity resources


Longer-Term (>4 Months)

Vital nonprofits are forecasting, and already experiencing, reductions in city, county, state, and federal government funding due to budget cuts
  • Previous recessions have seen large reductions in government funding for nonprofits 

  • Following the economic downturn of 2008-2009, 40% of nonprofits reported a reduction in local and state government funding while 50% reported a reduction in federal government funding15

  • On average, government funding comprises approx. 30% of the total funding for nonprofits16

  • At least 25% of Slingshot’s nonprofit partners have already experienced reductions in government funding or received guidance that they may over the next 3-12 months

  • Nonprofits are asked to do more during times of economic hardship. The benefits these nonprofits provide need to be appropriately prioritized in public and private funding decisions