Community members — including members of El Paso County Health, Servicios de La Raza, RISE and BeYou from Southeast Colorado Springs — provided the El Paso County Board of Health updates on a recent health survey provided to residents to identify supports needed during the continued COVID-19 pandemic during a Jan 27 Board of Health meeting. The survey was funded by a $50,000 planning grant provided by the Protect Our Neighbors program, and the money came from the CARES Act. 

“For the planning grant, our target audience were communities who were, and are, highly impacted by COVID-19,” said Maggie Youkhana, health equity planner for the Maternal and Child Health program at El Paso County Public Health. “These folks were identified as Spanish-speaking individuals needing access to local information and resources. One of our primary tools in carrying out this work includes the survey, where a little over 1,500 anonymous responses among Spanish-speaking communities were collected. Our partners provided bilingual staff who carried out these surveys.”

RISE distribution

RISE Southeast is one of three community organizations distributing free infrared thermometers to local small businesses in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The majority of survey respondents came from Southeast Colorado Springs, with 53 percent of respondents from 80916 and 27 percent from 80910. Most respondents were identified as Latino, and most were in the 30 to 39 age group. Nearly all respondents reported practicing COVID-19 prevention efforts such as wearing a mask, social distancing, and practicing frequent hand washing. The respondents said needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic included financial aid, medical help, rent and mortgage assistance, more information in Spanish and child care support.

Three out of every four respondents reported encountering at least one major barrier or difficulty during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The greatest barriers were financial impacts,” said Youkhana.

Nearly 68 percent of respondents reported major hardships due to job or wage losses, affording basic needs such as food, and paying for bills such as rent, mortgage or utilities, and finding money for healthcare services or emergency care. One out of every three respondents reported barriers in accessing COVID-19 testing, accessing medical care, or finding medical services or information in Spanish. One out of every three respondents also reported difficulties finding care for dependent children.

“We approach our community with the respect and dignity and culturally relevant messages in order for them to respond,” said Julissa Soto, program director for Servicios de La Raza. “Our community is struggling, especially with COVID, accessing systems and navigating systems. It’s our job to teach our community how to navigate those systems.”

Partnership brings COVID-19 testing to Southeast COS undocumented community

El Paso County Public Health employees operate a drive-through COVID-19 testing station July 27 at the Southeast & Armed Servies YMCA. The county and YMCA have partnered with Servicios de la Raza to provide testing for the undocumented and Spanish monolingual community every Monday from noon to 2 p.m. 

Servicios de La Raza was one of the early organizations partnering with El Paso County Public Health to reach undocumented and non-English speaking communities. “We were the first ones in El Paso County to start the bilingual testing,” said Soto, “and then Jefferson County contacted me to start their public testing also.”

In addition to Servicios de La Raza, RISE also helped respondents complete the survey.

“I am one of the people who hit the ground with boots on, running,” said Moni Hernandez with RISE. “We’re the people that are making these phone calls, getting these surveys filled out. Through RISE and BeYou we were able to get feedback from the Hispanic community. The RISE coalition was able to provide jobs [through grant funding] for people in the community who care about Southeast.”

Regina English, a RISE resident leader, the founder of BeYou, a nonprofit youth mentorship program, current Harrison School District 2 vice president and District 4 City Council candidate, emphasized the importance of local efforts in Southeast Colorado Springs.

“One of our focuses is to have resident-led change,” she said. “As we can see from the surveys and the data collected, the RISE coalition was able to collect 890 surveys. In order to help community, we need to know how to connect the community. This was a focused and collaborative work. It’s been very enlightening as well as inspirational.” 

In addition to the planning grant, El Paso County Public Health has also used a $300,000 infrastructure strengthening grant, also part of the Protect Our Neighbors program, to provide food access and housing assistance to organizations like Solid Rock Community Development Corporation, Catholic Charities, TESSA, Family Promise and Mercy’s gate.

El Paso County Public Health has also put together a list of resources for people struggling during the pandemic, available on their website.

“When they saw the list of services it was like showing a child candy,” said Hernandez. “This list was available, but to have it in Spanish they were able to read it in their own language. They could find where to get food and rent assistance, and where to go for job searching. It gave them hope.”

 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.