Coronavirus is both short-term and long-term crisis, but there is help

By Cynthia Price

The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is severe enough that both the short-term crisis and the long-term consequences are dire.

Within the first category, many people on social media and other forums are expressing concern for two groups of people: the homeless and those incarcerated.

Concern for the first group may focus on the “undomiciled” population’s inability to access proper sanitation. This is compounded as gas stations and mom-and-pop restaurants,
where houseless people accessed public bathrooms for their sanitary needs, have closed.

In Muskegon, agencies such as City Rescue Mission and Family Promise are facing unprecedented numbers and are doing their best to help the otherwise homeless. Every Woman’s Place, which helps survivors of domestic violence with housing, has temporarily closed its doors to new live-ins, but “will continue to provide intake assessments, legal advocacy, and counseling services using EWP’s online chat, phone texting, and web-based videoconferencing services.”

To access them, go to EWP’s website, www.everywomansplace.org click the ONLINE CHAT button at the top right of the page; or text 231-468-6060.

Though volunteering is precluded by the “Stay Home” order for the most part, these agencies certainly have a need for donations.

For the homeless, calling 2-1-1 may identify help.

The jail and prison populations face a different problem: it is close to impossible to social-distance there, and there are limits on personal hygiene items.

Or as U.S. Attorney General William Barr stated Thursday evening as part of the announcement of a surprise move directing the (Federal) Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement among older inmates with underlying conditions, “We want to make sure that our institutions don't become Petri dishes...”

The mother of someone in the Muskegon Correctional Facilty (who will remain an anonymous source to protect her privacy) reported Thursday that someone in the next “pod” to her son had obvious COVID-19 symptoms after returning from a trip to the hospital - coughing, wheezing, moaning with body aches - and the prison’s only response was to put her son, his cellmate, and the ill person in (separate) solitary confinement.

Her son also reports, she says, that there are long lines to use the phones with no space between people in the line, and no way to wipe down the phone or other surfaces before using them.

“He only has one more year left,” she said. “We’re so scared he’ll die before he can come home and sees his family.”

Though the warden was not available for comment, an employee of the Muskegon Correctional Facility said that the prison maintenance crew has definitely stepped up its own sanitation schedule, in keeping with recent state guidelines.

These protocols are stringent, said Chris Gautz, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Public Information Officer – including authorization of the use of bleach within the prisons (by employees), which is not normally the case.

“Every facility has been tasked with updating their protocol to envision and respond to this scenario and be prepared for even the worst case scenarios,” Gautz said.

A plan for placing sick prisoners in solitary confinement is in place in all facilities. Gautz also said that for required classes they are only allowing two people to a table and are sending only half of the prison population at a time to the “chow hall.”

On Thursday, the state quietly introduced a new category in its statewide coronavirus case reporting: Other. Clicking on the asterisk, one discovers that “Other” refers to MDOC cases. That day, March 26, there were 13.

At the same time, the state and others are looking to avoid a bleak economic future once the crisis passes.

There are a number of state and federal programs to help with stop-gap loans and other financial aid.

The Michigan Economic Development Center (MEDC) has a call center at 888-522-0103. The Michigan Small Business Development Center can also provide resources at sbdcmichigan.org/small-business-covid19/.  

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved the governor’s request for a statewide Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) declaration, opening the opportunity to small businesses to access low-interest loans.

Michigan Small Business Relief Program is able to offer $10 million in loans and $10 million in grants for small businesses, and the Michigan Treasury Department is offering tax assistance to small business whose operations have been disrupted due to COVID-19. Small businesses scheduled to make some tax payments on March 20 can postpone filing and payment requirements until April 20, with penalties waived for 30 days. Call 517-636-6925.

Many national organizations have stepped up to help in particular fields. For example, American Farmland Trust has a fund to help small to mid-size farmers with a $1,000 grant.
Gov. Whitmer has requested a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government.

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