COVID-19: Emerging Themes for Memphis - April 27, 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 had over 75 discussions with various 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)

Communities of color deal with 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 are substantially higher than their proportion of the population 

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

Under-resourced communities are struggling to obtain medical care for COVID-19
  • Evidence shows under-resourced communities are disproportionately at-risk for contracting COVID-19

  • Under-resourced communities typically lack access to high-quality healthcare and the required travel is even more challenging with the reduction in public transportation and ride-sharing options

  • Many under-resourced families lack the resources to access healthcare via telehealth and other alternative methods

  • Latinx communities face a shortage of Spanish-language COVID-related medical information and support

  • Testing and high-quality medical care need to be brought to these communities via mobile or temporary clinics to ensure these communities can access services to detect and treat COVID-19

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is reaching many nonprofits but some organizations, especially smaller ones, are still struggling to obtain these items
  • All nonprofits have faced a surge in the need for PPE - gloves, masks, disinfectants, and other cleaning supplies - to protect their beneficiaries and staff

  • Government and philanthropic efforts are reaching larger nonprofits but not all of these efforts have reached some of our city’s smaller nonprofits

  • These smaller nonprofits are least equipped to obtain these items on their own and need funds, donations, and support procuring these supplies as they typically do not purchase most of these items

Medium-Term (1-3 Months)

Food insecurity is being addressed by many organizations but sustained philanthropic and public support is necessary for several months
  • School closures and massive unemployment growth render many families food insecure

  • Nonprofits have courageously addressed this need by shifting their operations and/or expanding their existing food distribution efforts

  • Reduced public transportation and ride sharing prevent many from reaching food distribution events

  • Food insecurity will worsen over the next several months as families drain their resources with sustained unemployment

  • Continued philanthropic and public funding and extended support by nonprofits will be needed for at least the next several months

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 provided 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

Most nonprofits lack the resources and experience to rapidly shift to remote working environments and virtual program delivery
  • Nearly all nonprofits have been forced to shift to remote working models 

  • Many nonprofits are not equipped with the physical devices and video conferencing tools, nor do their staff have the training and technical skills, to support a rapid shift to remote working

  • Existing budgets are often insufficient to fund the sudden purchase of remote working solutions

  • Nonprofits would benefit from technology donations, funding, and support procuring necessary remote-working technology (laptops, webcams, video conferencing software, etc.)

Longer-Term (>4 Months)

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 families

  • 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

Demand for nonprofit services is escalating while they face operational shortfalls as traditional funding tightens
  • The demand for poverty-fighting services has already increased and will grow substantially over the next several months due to the massive disruption in employment

  • Nearly all traditional spring nonprofit fundraising efforts have been cancelled due to COVID-19

  • Government relief loans will sustain nonprofits only into the summer and the many nonprofits that have yet to receive government support face operational shortfalls sooner

  • Traditional funding is becoming less certain as foundations and individuals deal with the economic fallout and some government funds may not be disbursed when services cannot be performed during social distancing

  • Nonprofits are already furloughing and laying off staff to stretch their limited funding, but these strategies are not sustainable

  • A collapse in vital services may occur if the community does not rally before the summer to financially support nonprofits