Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, is a longtime supporter of his area's West/Southwest IAF affiliate, El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO)/Border Interfaith.
"They've developed a process of attentive listening over the years, talking to people about their lives and identifying the needs of a particular group," said Seitz. "When we were trying to create a process for the synod, it occurred to me it was exactly the approach they'd long taken."
[In photo, a synod training session is held by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) at a parish in the Diocese of Monterey, California. COPA community organizers trained around 500 Catholics to conduct synodal listening sessions in the region.]
For Synod Listening Sessions, US Bishops Turned to Community Organizers, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
After two weeks of intensive mobilizing by COPA (Communities Organized for relational Power in Action), leaders secured a nine-month, $1.59M extension of the VIDA community health worker (CHW) program in Monterey County. The 4-1 vote by the County Board of Supervisors extended the VIDA program at current levels to the end of 2022, preventing a reduction from 48 to 18 CHWs by the end of the month.
Prior to the vote, COPA leaders met with their district supervisors, telling stories about the impact of VIDA and asking that they support the extension.
At an online event drawing over 100 leaders, two County Supervisors and allies including the Community Foundation of Monterey County and the Grape Growers & Vintners Association, leaders taught attendees about the effectiveness of the program.
Fr. Lucas, a priest from King City, shared how he narrowly avoided infecting 200 parishioners at a weekend retreat because Maricela Acevedo, one of the CHWs, and a member of his parish persuaded him to test everyone prior. When one of the women on the kitchen crew was found to be positive, Maricela went to her house to test other family members.
Another woman, who speaks only Mixteco (an indigenous language in Mexico) got her questions about the vaccines answered only because one of the CHWs, Claudia, speaks both Mixteco and Spanish. Claudia not only helped the woman register for a vaccination appointment, she came to the house when called weeks later to administer rapid tests and help infected family members quarantine.
COPA first proposed the VIDA program to the Monterey County Supervisors, who voted unanimously in December of 2020 to allocate $4.9M to hire 100 CHWs. VIDA is administered by the Community Foundation of Monterey County.
[Photo Credit: Daniel Dreifuss, Monterey Weekly]
Local Organizations Seek County Support to Extend VIDA Community Health Worker Program, Monterey County Weekly [pdf]
"The Diocese of Monterey is in the beginning stages of the synod, training parish groups to go out and listen to the experiences of everyone, including those on the margins. Bishop Garcia and Deacon David Ford, who is leading the process in the diocese, both have experience working with community organizing groups in the past. They were quick to enlist their help with the synod.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Bishop Garcia, who had been meeting with Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA, since he arrived in Monterey. COPA is an association of community organizers based in California. “There are already some processes out there,” the bishop said. COPA “does a really good job of getting the pulse of the people. We’ve been really happy about how, at least initially, it’s going.”
Diocesan leaders planned to host five separate regional meetings to train leaders throughout the diocese about how to carry out the synod at their parish. Bishop Garcia invited pastors to attend along with a group of parishioners who would lead the synod at their church."
[Photo Credit:Diocese of Monterey]
A California Bishop Invited Community Organizers to Help with the Synod. So Far, It’s Working, America the Jesuit Review [pdf]
COPA Key Partner in Distribution of $6.75 Million in Rental Assistance to Low-Income Families in Monterey County
COPA (Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action) has been a key community partner in distributing $2.75 million of Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds in 2021, and will help distribute an additional $4 million in 2022.
Hartnell College Foundation received the ERAP funds from Monterey County United Way in 2021, and partnered with the COPA and Mujeres in Accíon to reach those in greatest need. COPA worked with member congregations to identify families who, due to reduced income due to COVID-19, are struggling to cover rent or utilities. COPA leaders guide them through the application process for emergency rent and utility assistance.
[Photo: Tere Simancas and Luis Arreguín help people fill out housing assistance applications outside Our Lady of Refuge in Castroville, CA. Credit: Adriana Molina, Voices of Monterey Bay]
After engaging over 350 Watsonville residents in conversation about public safety and the quality of interactions with police, COPA leaders presented their findings to the Watsonville City Council. Their findings, rooted in the experiences of hundreds of people from diverse walks of life and ages, were quickly integrated into an official report by an ad hoc committee on Policing and Social Equity.
COPA pointed out that policing and safety are not necessarily equivalent terms, and that systemic investments in mental health, youth and family programming, and budget alignments in city and police spending would go a long way towards making Watsonville safer -- particularly for youth of color.
Prior to the pandemic, over 100 COPA-IAF leaders had convened with the Watsonville Police Department Chief and Santa Cruz County Supervisor to address identified concerns about engagements between police and community. Soon after, the City responded with an invitation to participate in an ad-hoc committee on Policing and Social Equity. But COPA leaders first wanted to include more residents in the discussion, and with the support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), COPA engaged hundreds more residents in substantive conversations about direct experiences with Watsonville police and what restorative justice can look like.
COPA's reported findings have so far been met with a positive reception by Watsonville elected officials. Leaders plan to persist in their efforts as the City identifies a new Chief for the Watsonville Police Department.
[Photo Credits: (top) Tarmo Hannula, Good Times; (middle) courtesy of COPA]
Watsonville Committee Calls for more Police Accountability, Santa Cruz Local
City of Watsonville Report, Watsonville Ad Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity
Report on Police Reforms Filed by Watsonville City Council, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
Wrapping Up My Term as Mayor, The Pajaronian [12/2020]
A Deep Look into the Watsonville Police Department, The Pajaronian [08/2020]
Watsonville Police Oversight Committee in the Works, The Pajaronian [07/2020]
Watsonville, Santa Cruz to Start Police Reform Committees, Santa Cruz Local [07/2020]
New Committees Address police Reform in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz Local [02/2021]
COPA, which stands for Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, held meetings with its different core teams at different locations throughout California and paid attention to the voices demanding help. As a result, rental assistance regulations were modified to include people living in rooms and garages whether or not they had a lease. Once [COPA] learned this great news, [they] immediately started to plan a way to get this assistance to the people in our town....
Every Wednesday for the last month, members of COPA Castroville have been gathering outside Our Lady of Refuge Catholic church for a noble cause. They are helping community members apply for the rental assistance program authorized by the U.S. government that provides relief for the economic struggles families have experienced because of COVID-19….
Once Congress approved legislation to provide economic stimulus for families, some organizations like COPA organized community members demanding an eviction moratorium and the allocation of federal funds to help families struggling to pay rent. The problem for Castroville, and other small rural communities in the area, is that rental assistance was approved only for tenants with formal leases. And when it comes to Castroville, the picture of rentals is completely different.
[Photo Credit: Voices of Monterey Bay, Adriana Molina]
Helping families in Distress, COPA Assists Castroville Residents Applying for Rent Relief, Voices of Monterey Bay [pdf]
Over a year after losing their jobs to pandemic-related causes, Elizabeth remains unemployed, and her husband, a landscaper, is only able to get work once a week. Elizabeth says she knows that her family, theoretically, qualifies for the Covid-19 rent relief: they are below 80% of the Area Median Income and experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic.
But Elizabeth says she can’t afford to rely on theoretical assistance. With a family of five, including a 1 year-old, her primary concern is staying housed—even if it means cutting back on other essentials to pay rent.
“I have cut back on food, my internet, PG&E,” she says.
Elizabeth first heard about the Covid-19 rent relief program at a local food bank. It was there that she met a leader from Communities Organized for relational Power in Action (COPA), a faith-based nonprofit addressing issues like affordable housing. The COPA leader told her about the eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91—now updated as Assembly Bill 832....
The updated bill attempts to correct the gaps that excluded certain renters from the first round of applications. For instance, the new bill allows tenants with informal leases to qualify, requires either the tenant or the landlord to apply (the former bill required both parties to apply) and distributes $250,000 to Community Bridges to help facilitate in-person assistance and outreach —a critical component given the application must be submitted online.
COPA advocated for these changes and more, like 100% of back-rent forgiveness, up to three months of future rent, assistance with utility arrears and tenant records during the pandemic to be “masked,” or hidden, which are now included in the updated bill.
“Of course there’s still some obstacles, but I think what we have now is much better than what we saw initially,” says COPA organizer Mayra Bernabe.
But even though some obstacles were removed, their impact lingers, Bernabe says. “I know some of our families have mistrust for our government programs, because of the way they’ve been rolled out before,” she says.
[Photo: COPA leader Raymond Cancino, Executive Director of Community Bridges attests to hurdles in the process. Credit: Tarmo Hannula, Good Times]
A total of 675 leaders from across California convened on Zoom June 3 in an effort to urge California Gov. Gavin Newsom to extend and expand Senate Bill 91.
SB91, which went into effect in January, was the follow-up to Assembly Bill 3088’s eviction moratorium. It also outlined a state rental assistance program, including changes such as prohibiting consideration of Covid-19 rental debt as a negative factor for prospective tenants.
But the bill is set to expire on June 30, and while talks have been ongoing about extending it, few details have been released to the public. This prompted the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a network of faith and community-based organizations, to hold the June 3 meeting.
On Tuesday, California IAF released an additional statement further urging Newsom and state legislators to extend the moratorium without a preemption. Local COPA leader Mayra Bernabe said they have heard rumors of a 60-day extension that includes a preemption barring local governments from acting to extend their own moratoriums.
“If the extension is any shorter than 6 months, we want to be sure it gives local governments the flexibility to enact additional protective measures,” Bernabe said.
COPA leaders met Tuesday night to send emails and do phone banking to state representatives. Bernabe said they also wanted to put pressure on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to also consider a local extension, which other counties and cities have already done.
“We already have a big homelessness crisis in Santa Cruz County,” she said. “If this is not extended longer … we can expect a wave, a tsunami of homelessness. There are many out there who are on the brink, or will be evicted soon. We’re trying to get in front of this and prevent it.”
Bernabe added that thousands of households in the county are currently behind on their rent. Many did pay rent, but had to borrow money, take out loans and max out their credit cards—and that’s not even considering the upcoming months.
At the June 3 meeting Carolyn Winston, an IAF leader and member of St. Brigid Catholic Church in Los Angeles, urged people to contact their legislators before the June 15 budget deadline.
“The window is closing, but we have an opportunity to take action to impact legislative decisions,” Winston said. “Our actions influence their decision-making. Together we can effect change.”
Hundreds of Advocates Urge Gov. Newsom to Expand SB91, Good Times [pdf]
Hundreds of Advocates Urge Gov. Newsom to Expand SB91, The Pajaronian [pdf]
With Assistance Lagging, State Must Extend Rental Eviction Moratorium, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
With the deadline fast approaching on a statewide renter eviction moratorium, the California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), including Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Catholic Diocese of San José, is calling for an extension of the eviction moratorium and amendment of SB 91 to allow more flexibility with rental assistance.
“Hundreds of families on the Central Coast are barely keeping a roof over their heads — we need more time and more flexibility to give them the support they need to stay housed,” wrote Mayra Bernabe of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action in an email. “The state has the funds, they need to act to get them distributed to our families while protecting them from eviction.”
More than 500 activists organizing beneath the umbrella of the California Industrial Areas Foundation coalition, including affiliate COPA — a regional nonprofit consisting of 27 dues-paying member institutions across Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties — gathered for a statewide rally via Zoom Thursday night, participated in a call to action in seeking to extend the state’s rental eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91 or the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act, by an additional six months....
Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who spoke in favor of the state’s previous extension of SB 91, warned in January of a coming “wave of homelessness” without the legislation. Prior to COVID-19, Rivas said, some 3.3 million households in California already were living paycheck to paycheck.
“COVID-19 is a financial disaster that no household could have prepared for – and it’s our black and brown communities who are feeling the worst impacts of the virus,” said Rivas, whose district extends into Watsonville. “Not only are Latinos disproportionately more likely to contract the virus than the general population, but they are more likely to have lost their jobs due to the subsequent recession. Latinos, who make up 38 percent of the workforce, account for 50 percent of statewide job losses since the start of the pandemic, and those who lost their jobs overwhelmingly rent.”
- Santa Cruz County Housing Advocates Seek State Eviction Moratorium Extension, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
- Local Leaders Ask for Extension of Moratorium on Evictions in California, Telemundo [en español] [pdf]
- California IAF Action on Renter Protection, California IAF
[At the beginning of the pandemic] members of community groups 'Mujeres en Acción' and 'Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action' (COPA) began meeting twice a week at the onset of the pandemic to figure out what community needs were after seeing the virus negatively impact their neighborhoods. They began making hundreds of phone calls to locals, going to their respective churches, schools and other places of gathering, building a list and figuring out what people needed to stay safe – and financially afloat – as the pandemic progressed.
“What we were finding is people almost knew that they have symptoms or believed that they were infected but they couldn’t afford to stay home,” says Maria Elena Manzo, program manager for Mujeres en Acción....
Organizers made a list of things they believed were needed to slow the spread of the virus in the hard-hit farmworker community. The list included better communication from employers about potential exposure and wage replacement for those who miss work due to self-quarantine.
Organizers met with Monterey County Health [officials, and] later began working with a wider group of community leaders, including representatives from the agriculture and hospitality industries and Community Foundation for Monterey County, called the Covid-19 Collaborative.
In December 2020, they presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, who voted to approve a $4.9 million budget for a community health worker program. That program, called VIDA (for Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid), is currently funding over 110 community health workers across 10 organizations, Mujeres en Acción among them, to provide resources to people in the communities that are hardest hit. One of the groups, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, is providing information in Triqui, Zapoteco and Mixteco, indigenous languages from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico that are all spoken in Monterey County.
“One way to stop the spread was to hire people from the community as trusted messengers to talk to people to help them understand the need of being safe, using masks and distancing and all that,” Manzo says.
[Photo Credit: Jose Angel Juarez/Monterey County Weekly]