Families and Individuals Struggling with Housing Insecurity, Substance Use Disorder, and Justice-Related Issues Must Not Be An Afterthought

Rochester, NY–On Tuesday afternoon, Rochester-area grassroots and civil rights groups held a virtual “State of the City” response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizations raised concerns with the current response from Rochester and Monroe County leaders, which hasn’t adequately addressed the needs of the most vulnerable communities, specifically around issues of housing, health care, education, and mass incarceration.

For too many people in our community, our shelters are the only place to go. The current health crisis demands that we move our homeless into hotels until permanent housing can be arranged,” said Jasmin Reggler of the Rochester City-Wide Tenants Union. “We also need to suspend rent, so people are not losing their housing during this pandemic.”

“The Rochester City School District is proposing a budget that cuts over 200 staff members, including one-third of all social workers in the district. This would be absolutely devastating to our students,” said Stevie Vargas, Community Organizer for Citizen Action of New York. “With the stress and trauma being caused by this crisis, social workers will be essential to ensuring the social and emotional wellbeing of our students.”

“Just this month, in one weekend alone, we saw over a dozen opioid overdoses and four deaths. The preventative measure of social distancing is necessary but detrimental to the physical and emotional health of those dealing with substance use issues,” said Kim Smith, Statewide Organizer for VOCAL-NY. “Monroe County needs a comprehensive plan to address the challenges created by social distancing and the lack of access to community-based supports.”

“People incarcerated in local jails don’t have the luxury of social distancing. Because of this, the COVID-19 virus is spreading quickly. To save the lives of both incarcerated people and those working in the jails, we must release aging people, people with pre-existing conditions, and those accused of lower-level offenses. This has to happen immediately,” said Ashley Gantt, Community Organizer for the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

Participating organizations included the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) – Genesee Valley Chapter, Rochester City-Wide Tenants Union, VOCAL-NY.

Watch the press conference recording here.

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