Keeping residents ‘sheltered’ in place during pandemic

By Pedro Hernández

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact nearly every aspect of our community, the Ivanhoe Sol is exploring additional ways to best provide important information. This month, the Ivan-
hoe Sol has begun a monthly webinar series that can be watched on our Facebook page. Our first video is titled “COVID-19 and Housing Issues in Tulare County” and our goal was to have “essential” workers discuss their experience with COVID-19-19 and to highlight issues like they work on and the argument in favor of a moratorium on all evictions during the pandemic.

Many Tulare County residents have lost jobs and wages due to the pandemic and face several additional problems, especially evictions and increased exposure to COVID-19 as cases in Tulare continue to rise. According to the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, as of May 22, there have been 1,641 total positive cases of COVID-19-19 detected in Tulare County with 19 cases in the Ivanhoe area.

While there have been 835 people whose source of infection has been identified, roughly half or 806 people have unknown sources of infection or are currently under investigation.
The participants for our event included community workers like Dr. Omar Guzman from Kaweah Delta Medical Center, Blanca Escobedo from Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Esmeralda Garcia from the Ivanhoe Community Council, and Andrea Kelly with FoodLink for Tulare County. Each speaker addressed how COVID-19-19 has been affecting their work and all speakers agreed that COVID-19 has been making pre-existing problems like homelessness and access to healthcare even more difficult for Tulare County residents.

Leaders Support Protections

While all our participants agreed there have been many efforts to help community members who have been affected by the pandemic, they all agreed that Tulare County should use its authority to halt all evictions to protect the residents of Tulare County during the pandemic.

Andrea Kelly is the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator with FoodLink, an organization based in Exeter that is the only food bank that serves rural communities in Tulare County. Her organization almost immediately feel the impacts of the pandemic on communities in need of food. For example, Andrea commented that, “on the west side of Tulare we served 465 people, in some areas the need has doubled or tripled.” While the demand at their regular distributions is increasing and FoodLink is also expanding their service area since some food pantries have shut down during the pandemic.

In order to continue to serve the community of Tulare County, FoodLink has begun to do drive-through food distributions where residents can pick up their food in their vehicles. However, these new measures to protect public health have also meant that FoodLink is in need of additional volunteers. Kelly commented, “We only used to need seven or eight people, now we need twenty or twenty-five” for each distribution.

When asked why her organization supports a stop to evictions Kelly stated, “given the amount of people that are out of work and relying on our services just for food, I can only imagine what else they are struggling with to pay their rent, to pay their utility bills, and for their other basic needs.” She added, “if they are evicted they will not have access to food because they will not have access to a stove or refrigerator to feed themselves adequately.”

Food access is also an issue for the residents of Ivanhoe since many local stores may need to close due to pandemic noted Ivanhoe community member, Esmeralda Garcia. She is a member of the Ivanhoe
Community Council which has been advocated for the community on the county level for many issues including improving the quality of roads in Ivanhoe and efforts to bring a park into the community.

When asked what message she would like to leave for her local representatives Garcia said, “I hope that they really take into account the many families that may become homeless due to the moratorium not taking place, we already have a high number of homeless individuals and we really want to prevent those numbers from rising.”

Dr. Omar Guzman works as an emergency room physician at Kaweah-Delta Medical Center. He is also the director of medical students and leads the “Street Medicine” program where medical professionals create mobile health clinics to serve the homeless populations of Tulare County. Based on his experience, Dr. Guzman offered several reasons why he supported renter’s protections.

He said, “We know that people that are homeless have ten times greater mortality than people who are sheltered, the more we push people out into the streets the more it increases their likelihood of contracting the virus.” Secondly, he claimed that eviction in general can increase the number of emergency room visits since, “We know that evictions affect mental health and the emergency department is the front lines for mental health.”

Finally, Dr. Guzman articulated he viewed renter’s protections as a way to keep reliable medical services available for rural communities. He stated, “We don’t want people to have to make a decision between accessing healthcare and paying rent, I think that we live in  medically underserved area where people lack access to primary care as well as specialty care in general.”

Blanca Escobedo is a Tulare County community organizer for the nonprofit organization, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. She has been advocating with other residents of Tulare County to protect residents from evictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect public health and ensure families have a safe place to stay until there is a treatment developed.

According to Escobedo, four out of five of the County Supervisors do not support halting evictions. She said the county must also take a more active role in letting community members know their rights, “There’s a lot of language barriers, there’s a lot of internet barriers which makes it all the more important for the county to deliver that information and to enact stronger protections,”

When asked why her organization supports an evictions moratorium, Escobedo was quick to point to other local governments that have acted to protect renters and vulnerable communities during the pandemic. She said, “The city of Oakland, their ordinance protects renters against future evictions for non-payment and it also bans late fees accumulated due to missed payments due to this. Also the county of Alameda, their ordinance actually goes above and it’s not just for evictions due to COVID-19 but a protection for all evictions regardless of cause.”

When asked about any advice for residents, Escobedo urged residents to seek legal advice as soon as possible but also to “Contact your supervisor, if you live in an incorporated city contact your councilmen and pressure them to not only protect you but protect everyone else.”

Looking For Help

Since our event was held, the Tulare County Supervisors have still not used their existing authority to support an evictions moratorium. If any residents are being threatened with eviction, we urge you to learn more about your existing rights and options by contacting Central California Legal Services at (800) 675-8001 and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability at (559) 369-2790. There are also limited rental assistance programs with CSET at (559) 732-4194 and the United Way at (559)
685-1766. To see the entire video and to be advised of our next event, please visit the Ivanhoe Sol’s Facebook Page.


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