As a follow-up to the first Coronavirus meeting: The impact of Coronavirus on Neighbourhood and Community Houses. IFS members gathered for a second time to update or share news from their communities. Representatives from Australia, the USA, South Korea, Germany, The United Kingdom, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, France and Italy were present at the meeting.
In this meeting, the IFS Office gives each representative the opportunity to share the challenges, success, lessons and actions taken to cope with the new normal brought by the COVID-19 pandemic in our communities and work. Below is the meeting’s report with briefings from each country.
USA: was represented by Chris Hanway, Jennifer Vallone, Susan Matloff-Nieves, Lauri Goldkind and Barbara DiGangi.
Most services are provided remotely. University Settlement’s mental Health program is providing online counselling, and they are also working in collaboration with the United Neighbourhood Houses (UNH) in some projects, help for those who are feeling anxious, worry or are grieving. The private fund raised have helped increase the number of meals delivered to seniors and other population, childhood programs are remote. Folks who are usually hesitant to seek mental health help are now open to it. Staff are supporting and caring for each other with weekly online meetings. English classes for immigrant are available online, but not everyone has access to the internet. Seniors are doing Bingo, seniors’ virtual center, there are more direct responses, food is a real need, food distribution is also done from the front of community centers, the community centers’ to be used as testing sites in collaboration with the City in the days to come, Everybody is trying to adapt and cope with the situation (Jacob Riis Settlement). In Iowa there after school programs to support parents and provide educational help, counsellors and math teachers are offering individual tutoring service, exercise classes for older adults, voting and masks distributions in support to partner agencies, supply to the African–American, Latino and LGBT populations (Allison Wallace). The homeless support team is bravely working 24/7 to support the homeless population who are in a disastrous situation without shelter, food or handwashing, programs redeployment with the help of a redeployment master, assistance to people with a small emergency grant for necessities, daily homework help to children whose parents are essential workers, limited by language skills or other factors, call services to seniors, assisting people on being counted for the Census and backfilling the state’s services that are not effective. On a positive note, solidarity and support to each other have been amazing within organisations, and among colleagues, the support for each other is strong despite being socially distanced (Goddard Riverside).
New York is the most challenging city in all country. It’s getting a little calmer, but there’s still a backdrop of drama and crisis, challenging situation with losses of colleagues, family members and client. A flawed mental health system, restlessness among young adults who are refusing to stay home for fear of isolation and others go to food lines to socialise. Video conferences don’t work for seniors as they need human to human contact. Most of them are asking for the reopening of centers despite the risk. Children’s educational divide is widening. Some of the children have without classes in a long time due to the lack of technology. The effect of classes divide is noticeable. On the one hand, the wealthy group going to their second homes to protect their health and on the other hand, the underclass group ( trans workers, food deliverers, social workers etc.) showing up every day but with devastating statistics in illness and death, the economic and racial health disparities have become so evident and vivid, skyrocketing unemployment and no access to food stamps, the aid system has crashed and the government’s aid system is swamped. Community and Neighbourhood Houses are committed and working hand in hand with communities and have adapted their services are putting efforts in meeting solutions to the challenges mentioned above. Part of the challenge is also the lack of coordination at the federal level and leadership, said Lauri Goldkind, social work professor and researcher at Fordham University, she also suggested organising remote meetings at different levels and open to all.
Australia: was represented by Paul Sekfy, Lyn Lormer, Elizabeth O.Neil, Michael Shreenan.
Concerning the virus, Australia and New Zealand seem to have done quite well compared to other countries. It’s crucial to share the experiences at being local and communities. The end of the crisis is not known. Still, it’s evident that community work is essential to the functioning of the local communities in this crisis but more importantly, in its recovery. Neighbourhood Centers have closed their doors, and community workers operate remotely, weekly zoom meetings of 40 – 60 people are organised for members and staff. Some people have chosen to stay open, and others are strong in social distancing. A remarkable politic is going on. There was a little bit of denial from the prime minister at first, but when everyone got on board different aid systems were put in place, a special nationwide cabinet meets weekly and makes decisions around all that is happening around the country such as school reopening and closing, the politic is good but different from the usual.
This crisis has taught us how essential we are to the functioning of our local communities now but most importantly, in its recovery. Exchanging experiences in our meetings and conversations will change the way we see the future of community work. These are challenging moments but an opportunity to think about how we prosecute the case that we, Neighbourhood House and Community Centers are the roads to engagement. We need to understand now what we are dealing with and how we can change the dialogue, we represent part of the solution in the future, beyond this we are part of the new possibilities in the recovery, we can lead the way to form a better future. Our movement globally, internationally, and locally, is important. This crisis helps us learn how to be stronger from our shared values, said Paul Sekfy of LCSA. The numbers of illness and death are low in Australia, but the impact of lockdown and closure of Neighbourhood Centers who are closed to the public but still operate from the front doors of the building. There is a massive increase in the need for food, fresh meals and fresh produce. In Sydney, market food is picked up and distributed with other organisations in need. Increase in electricity release, loss of employment, and there are volunteers, part–time workers to help with the services, the physical newsletter are now online, activities organised for children, the government has provided accommodation for the most vulnerable. The Federal and state’s government coordination and leadership have been fantastic. Online services are provided to those in need and virus testing in collaboration with the government.
Social isolation, food security and digital inclusion are the most seen challenges. There is a fear of a second wave of the virus. Fear of the unknown.
Nigeria: was represented by Sunday Ofili Ibobor, IFS board member.
The situation in Nigeria is relatively easy, with less death and contamination, but the lockdown is affecting everyone. The challenge is fake news and misinformation to the local communities. Our work is to ensure accurate and reliable information to our members.
United Kingdom: Mark Law and Ruth Breidenbach-Roe of Locality.
At least 4 of Staff members have lost friends and families, and the death rate is the highest in Europe. Most of the services are essential. All the staff are working. The most need ones are food delivery, medicine, telephone support and other services that are facilitated by other organisation members. Staff are mostly meeting online using Zoom. Youth teams are still working because this is an important and needed service. Community Centers using four hotels around the city to give shelters to the homeless and to the victims of violence.
All in all, this has created a new way of working with and particularly with the government. The federal government response aid has been delayed and not reliable, leaving health workers and care homes vulnerable, without equipment and Community responses are incredibly visible. The positive thing is that people are working in partnership to find solutions to the most issues in communities. Community support is more visible; their quick responses, ability and agility have been remarkable. Community services responses have been valuable, the state’s flexibility with contracts and space to work towards emerging the needs emerging in different issues. In terms of conversation, the focus is on what happens next? There will be plans in making people understand how valuable the community members are, the role and importance of community work, etc.
Emotional health is one of the biggest challenges. High anxiety level from the most vulnerable and future challenges would be a trauma for the loss of loved ones with long-term impacts on mental health, unemployment, economic damages, protecting the staff from burn-out etc.
France: represented by Maia Cordier, Dominique Garet (French Federation) and Mourad Chalal.
Social Centers have remained active and have been working mainly online. The services provided are children support in school matters, families and parenting issues, food distribution, childcare for essential workers, telephone services, reducing the inequalities in the access to digital devices, providing smartphones and other digital tools to families. Most of the social centers are closed but still active in different ways. The crisis has highlighted various inequalities in the communities. The responses, actions and adaptability of social centers have been incredibly fast. Schools are going to be accessible soon. Social centers will also open their doors in compliance with the norms of safety. The reorganisation of teams to meet the needs of the after the crisis, information and experiences, perspectives of this situation to later share and discuss on how to redefine services and possible activities in the future.
Israel : represented by Etti Isler.
Schools are slowly opening their doors; formal activities are not entirely back to normal. Unemployment is the biggest challenge in Israel, and the government has promised a little help for the staff. There are still hope in having everything back to normal.
South Korea : represented by Jeajun Choi
The situation is getting better but there’s still the danger of a second wave, and the economic situation is critical. Housing prices are decreasing.
The Netherlands: represented Elly van der Klauw and Thijs Van Mierlo.
Things are loosening a little, but there is uncertainty, will things go back to normal and when? People’s freedom to outdoor activities is limited, and tensions are visible. Most community centers in the Netherlands are closed. Nevertheless, there is lots of community spirit. People are reaching out for each other and the vulnerable and many programs are remote. Members are outstanding in mobilizing all their assets very quickly. There are worries about mental health, social isolation and unstable family situations. For community centers there are a lot of concerns about finance and liquidity. As a national organization, the focus is on financial support (short term and long term), new and creative ideas. There will be a national protocol for reopening community centers with respect to the national guidelines.
How to boost the sustainability of Community centers? What must be done in the aftercare? What innovation is needed? And how to make the rise in community spirit more durable? The has a role to play for IFS for better appreciation in community responses. There is visible fear of budget costs and austerity. The impact of the global collective voice is essential to this crisis.
Italy: represented by Adriana Persia of ARCI SOLIDALI.
Italy is one of the most affected countries in the world, but things are getting better. Most of the public places such as shops, markets and workplaces will start their activities soon. Outdoors activities with masks are allowed, but schools, theatre and others are expected to be back in September. There is little financial support for those who have lost their employment. Inequalities are significantly evident; poverty has increased. The community centers are delivering services like food, psychological and other support online. NGO’s are facing an economic crisis. All the activities have been stagnant, but thanks to the digital world, international mobility and youth projects are kept active with meetings and planning for future projects in global youth mobility. The borders and barriers might be closed for a more extended period and to keep track of the partners, the staff is using digital tools to remain active with other organisations. In one of the projects with the international partners, a petition addressed to the European institutions or the UN was created with the idea of presenting our plans and make our voice heard.
Uncertainty in almost everything, economic crisis, unemployment, poverty, etc.
Germany: represented by Renate Wilkening, IFS Board member.
There is a decrease in the numbers of infections. The government have decided that every federate state will decide to keep or loosen keep the restrictions. The playgrounds are open, and kindergarten also opens for essential workers. The community government are discussing opening soon but need a little bit of preparation. There is an excellent programme with volunteer agencies, Neighbourhood Centers called Neighbour help Neighbour. Loneliness is affecting many people, and dance sessions are conducted online as well as other activities, gaming for youth, online and telephone counselling, our staff members are also sewing masks for all, food distribution, restaurants are providing us with meals that. The finances are sufficient for the moment. Elderly and disabled are not yet allowed to join the community centers.
Hygiene plans for all services. There will be danger assessment for the employees who are more than 50 years old. They need to be examined before they work with the clients, and will still get their payment even if they choose not to resume work, the number of children in our kindergarten is out of control, and the violence is also one of the biggest challenges.
Finland: Pentti Lemmetyinen, Junias Kanyinda, Miikkael Ringman.
The Finnish Federation had two weeks to react after the rise of the death rates in other European countries. The death rates are not significant compared to other countries. All state was closed but will soon be open. Schools, kindergarten, community schools and others will also be open.
Cases of domestic violence, children protection, loneliness, isolation mainly with older adults and uncertainty
Sweden: Staffan Lindqvist
There was not much of lockdown. Most of the community centers are youth centers and remained open. High schools and universities were closed. Since the high schools are closed, and some of these youth don’t have access to digital tools, they get help at the Centers with study support and computers. Many activities provided are outdoors and many are digitalized. The elderly are recommended to be extra careful and many are helping seniors to do shopping, but loneliness is the hardest. Health care homes ran by private companies didn’t have enough equipment or well-protected tools for workers and clients; thus, many infections.
Nursing homes have had the highest death rates around the country. The time has been difficult for immigrants whose majority is in risky jobs with less opportunity for social distancing and also living in smaller apartments due to low-income.
Please follow this link here to read the report of March 31st meeting.