The COVID pandemic has presented a lot of change, chaos, uncertainty, and challenge within our communities and beyond. We’ve had to make a lot of difficult decisions along the way, and that will continue for at least a bit longer. But we wanted to also pause and share some of why we’ve made the decisions we have, and where we hope to head from here.
VACCINES: We DO encourage our team and community members to get vaccinated, but we have NOT required it for anyone. There does seem to be some pretty clear evidence that vaccines help people who get sick to experience less severe forms of illness, and be far less likely to die. Additionally, although plenty of people who get vaccinated still catch COVID, there is evidence to suggest that the viral load they carry is lesser, and so they are somewhat less likely to spread the illness to others.
That said, we take mandatory anything pretty seriously, especially when it comes to putting something into someone’s body. This is especially important in a community that has experienced forced drugging that has caused so many people great harm. Additionally, we are also aware that this issue does not impact only people with psychiatric histories. Black and brown people and other marginalized communities (both within and beyond the psychiatric survivor community) have experienced serious mistreatment and disregard within our medical systems, and any mistrust that that has generated is also valid.
ACCESS TO CENTERS: We made the decision early on NOT to close our centers. Too many people were left without any safe place to quarantine, and those are generally the same people treated as invisible by our systems on the regular. We also do NOT support requirements to show vaccine cards, or negative test results in order to enter our spaces. These spaces are created especially with marginalized communities in mind, and expecting people living unhoused and in an array of other difficult situations to produce cards or take tests to access a space of that nature disregards the difficulty they face on a daily basis in accessing community resources. It also puts an undue burden on people in these positions to tolerate invasive asks in a way that simply isn’t required of people with more privilege, and is essentially a discriminatory practice for that reason.
Additionally, because being vaccinated doesn’t reliably prevent someone from becoming sick, or passing that illness on to others, we would be placing that undue burden on already heavily burdened community members for reasons that are at least somewhat based more in perception than reality. These sorts of practices also miss the fact that many people who’ve been harmed by our systems avoid spaces that have invasive practices. Given our community was set up with people who’ve been alienated from these systems in mind, it would not make sense for us to implement practices that might drive those folks away without extremely good justification.
CONTACT TRACING: We have pushed back on or refused participation in any contact tracing practices. Again, this is largely an issue of privilege. Many of us have traveled around to supermarkets, theaters, restaurants, and beyond without any ask of turning over personal information for the purpose of contact tracing. So, when the idea was proposed that our centers should implement contact tracing, and record the names and phone numbers of everyone who entered the space, we said NO.
The reality is that many people who come into our spaces don’t even have reliable or consistent phone numbers anyway, and many have fears about or bad past experiences with being tracked. Additionally, Wildflower Alliance Director, Sera Davidow, reported that when her 10-year-old child became COVID positive, a contact tracer called her who barely asked any questions about who had been in their home, let alone with who else the child had come in contact outside of the home. So, once again, this focus has seemed a bit more rooted in perception than reality, and that’s just not enough of a justification to institute what would have ultimately been a discriminatory practice targeting already marginalized communities.
WHAT WE ARE COMMITTED TO PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE: Our efforts have particularly focused on mask wearing, cleaning, on-line options (that have both created and reduced access depending on who someone is and what challenges they face), quarantining following an exposure or positive test, and other efforts that do not involve invading people’s privacy or interfering with their bodily integrity. While we understand that many people don’t like to wear masks—and some have very good trauma-related and other reasons for that dislike or inability— for most people, it’s an inconvenience rather than an invasion. And, it’s one that is low cost and easily accessible (especially as we’ve provided free masks as needed!). While there is strong evidence that the masks are effective at significantly reducing risk with most strains of COVID, it also is a visible gesture of respect and caring for the community (and particularly to disabled people who are especially vulnerable to getting sick), even if some folks feel uncertain about the actual effectiveness of this intervention. We do realize that the constant vigilance and changes with mask wearing policies and similar are also taking their toll on many people’s sense of being able to exist in this world, and so we do hope things continue to head in a better direction. But in the meantime, we will continue to navigate mask wearing and other measures named herein, taking input where we can from the community about how to move forward in this way.
We will also continue to make efforts to offer things on-line and in person as best as our capacity allows us, though we are struggling as most places are with coverage and burn out from all that has transpired these past few years. We welcome any suggestions you have about how to move forward, and about how to continue building, healing, and growing all around.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us and our communities through this time!