Within a crisis, everything becomes limited: limited resources, limited time, limited energy. For our community, the limited resources and access they had are even further diminished in this crisis. One of the most important things revealed within this pandemic are the impact of individual behaviors on our public health. But how can we expect people to engage in safe behaviors and protocols if they don’t have access to the resources they need to survive? We want to give you an insight into how we make our decisions and why we’ve decided to act the way we are now. 

Behind the Barrier: Internet Access

Compiling data for our 2019 impact report, we found that 62% of people in our community do not have internet in their homes. Most people had online access through a local library or the homes on our Peace Campus. Since right now public places are closed, our community members lose access to the internet. This means people have lost opportunity for connection, entertainment to pass the time, and life-saving information. 

What does this look like for individuals? 

For many of us, it can be hard to remember or imagine a world without the internet. It’s how we communicate, learn, work, express ourselves. It feels like a necessity, and for most people it is. Having no internet during COVID-19 means you don’t know how your friend who lives a block over is doing or whether they’re safe. It means you have no one to talk to throughout the day except for whoever lives in your home. It means you can’t look up how to bake bread or new recipes for the last can of whatever you could find at the grocery store. Having no internet during a crisis means you don’t have notice after notice about how contagious this virus is and that there are strains of it that are asymptomatic. No internet in 2020 during COVID-19 means you don’t know how to keep yourself safe. 

Just a few of the reasons internet access matters during a pandemic:

  • CDC real-time updates on safety protocol 
  • Updated hours and operations of nearby businesses are online.  
  • Emergency relief for rent and utilities
  • Where to find food in your neighborhood from non profits or government organizations
  • Regular updates from the government 
  • Children’s schooling, so our kids can complete their classes. 

What does this look like for the public? 

Though misinformation is rampant in every part of our world, the dangers of it are not equal. People from low-income communities are ten times more likely to die, according to a recent New York Times articles. This has been made clear as we are able to acquire more data in terms of cases and where they’re most prevalent. In Chicago, 70% of Covid-related deaths are Black people, even though only 30% of residents are Black. 

Without access to the information that keeps us safe and the social connection that keeps us sane, our community has a lot stacked against them. 

What are people’s options?

Comcast is offering free internet for the next two months! Though our community easily meets the requirements for Comcast, they do not have the access to this information to actually apply for the support which is only available through an online form. Before the virus, people were able to complete the process on their own online, but now the library and other public spaces are closed. 

You need internet to get internet. But that’s not all. Comcast’s application asks for a phone number, home address, and social security number. 

  • Not everyone in our community has a social security number or is aware of it 
  • Not everyone has a phone number that is in service. 
  • Not everyone wants to give out social security numbers when filling out an application by phone. With neighbors we know and have established trust, we’re able to complete this process for them over the phone, but in general giving out your social security number over the phone is ill-advised. The solution we are providing for our neighbors is not scalable for the city as a whole. 

What is I Grow Chicago doing? 

After 4 weeks of crisis response, our team has delivered over 2,000 weekly flyers to nearly 700 homes on 40 blocks. These fliers shared the information that many of us can access online, such as what to do if you aren’t feeling well or understanding how the virus is spread. Our direct phone number is on these fliers, so people have a number to call if they needed support. Since our fliers have started going out, we have received calls everyday with questions and needs requests and are delivering to more families every week in need of supplies.

  • Our afterschool tutoring team is operating from a distance over the phone, completing daily tutoring with our children. To help our students be able to access their remote learning, we have gotten 25 laptops sponsored and supported 3 homes in successfully acquiring internet. Two more begun the process of internet installation through our team completing the online process with them. 
  • Rent relief is also an online process, which we have supported 6 people in getting through by phone. We also supported an additional 10 people with emergency unemployment benefits through Chicago Legal Aid. 
  • To keep community connected spiritually and emotionally, our daily prayer circle has worked together to meet 15 times by phone. 
  • For medical support and checking in on the health of our community, our volunteer registered nurse has made 61 calls. 

Though these barriers are large, and there are barriers to addressing the barriers, we know that through listening to our community’s needs and working together, we will be able to continue to combat them.