Helping families in distress
COPA assists Castroville residents applying for rent relief
In Monterey County, rental assistance is also available to families living in rooms or garages.
From Voices of Monterey Bay, SEPTEMBER 3, 2021
| By Luis Arreguín
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.
But it takes more than just setting up tables and computers and getting together every Wednesday afternoon to help farmworkers in distress.
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.
In this North Monterey County town, many tenants live in garages, studios or rooms rented from homeowners who share their houses to get some economic relief themselves. Those agreements between tenants and homeowners are largely verbal and many landlords did not have any intention of signing documents to prove they were renting their properties. In effect, small tenants in this — and other areas where farmworkers live — would not be able to apply for rental assistance.
| Photo by Adriana Molina
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 we learned this great news, we immediately started to plan a way to get this assistance to the people in our town.
Mary Rojo, Ady Santana, Isabel Manzo, Tere Simancas, Lidia Serrato, Adriana Molina and I met with Father Pedro Espinoza of Our Lady of Refuge to discuss how the church could get involved in getting the message out for as many people as possible. Espinoza announced at every Mass that COPA would be helping families file the application for rental assistance outside the church each Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Sometimes, the group would finish around 8 p.m.
We are still providing this support on a weekly basis. As of Sept. 1, about 140 applications have been submitted.
This process at the local level started with a Civic Academy on Zoom one day after a Sunday mass, with Lidia Serrato and Tere Simancas describing the rental assistance program. After sharing stories, regional leaders of COPA such as Arturo Aguila oriented potential applicants on the documents they needed to bring to the church. The Civic Academy on Zoom was a bilingual event at which people affected by COVID-19 narrated how they struggled to keep their jobs and to keep food on the table when they lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off.
| Photo by Adriana Molina
After the Civic Academy, Mary Rojo and Lupita Zamudio prepared flyers to be distributed after Mass at Our Lady of Refuge, and every Wednesday Tere Simancas, Lidia Serrato and I fired up our laptops to input as many applications as possible through the United Way website. Isabel, Ady, Lupita and Mary supported their group by taking pictures of each document, using Adobe Scan to get PDF files which were then submitted to the team in charge of uploading those documents along with the application to the official website.
The work has been completed with an on-site review by an agency in charge of verifying documents and authorizing the disbursement of the funds. Lenin Ramos from Mujeres en Accion and Ana Ibarra from Hartnell College have attended some of these events in Castroville to conduct a thorough review of the applications and guarantee their approval. Some other visitors, such United Way representatives as well as a candidate running for Monterey County supervisor, have visited the booth.
We in COPA Castroville think that we have passed our first test as a new organization and that our journey to become community leaders has just started. The community will have the last word.
For more information about the rental assistance program in Monterey County, visit https://www.unitedwaymcca.org/county-rent-and-utility.
About Luis Arreguín
Luis Arreguín grew up in Querétaro, Mexico, where he worked as a college instructor and a journalist. He immigrated to the United States in 2000. He currently is an adjunct math instructor at Monterey Peninsula College and a US Citizenship teacher for North Monterey County Unified School District.
COPA Rental Assistance Enrollment Events
The congregations hosting enrollment events made announcements and passed out fliers at masses for several weeks prior to the events. The announcements described the program, and listed eligibility and documentation requirements. People interested in applying were asked to sign up for the enrollment events. In the days just prior to the enrollment events, COPA leaders made calls to those who had signed up, reminding them about the event and of the documentation that would be required.
The following institutions have hosted events, some of have hosted multiple events:
- Our Lady of Refuge in Castroville
- San Juan Bautista in King City
- St. Mark’s in King City
- San Pablo Apostol in Seaside
- St. Francis Xavier in Seaside
- Sacred Heart in Salinas
There have been 374 applications completed so far at COPA events. COPA has partnered with the City of Salinas and Hartnell College to process the applications completed at our events. Not only did this project build leadership teams at each of the host institutions, but we strengthened relationships between institutions. The two Seaside congregations worked together on their enrollment events, as did the congregations in King City. Leaders from Castroville drove to Seaside and to King City to help with their events.
COPA is not a service delivery organization. COPA’s mission is to build the power to work on behalf of families on the central coast. We do this by developing leaders and by developing their capacity to participate in public life. Consequently, the Rental Assistance Organizing Strategy had two objectives: to build leadership teams in the six institutions who hosted enrollment events and to help families affected by COVID to enroll successfully in the rental assistance program. While people were waiting to apply for rental assistance, there was an opportunity to meet them and tell them about COPA. We identified a number of new potential leaders and are following up with them individually.
More Rental Assistance Enrollment gatherings are planned. To get learn about upcoming enrollment sessions, please call the COPA office or email us at [email protected].
COPA Members and Leadership
COPA Regional Strategy Team
Rev. Vicky Elder, Unity Church of Monterey Bay, Monterey
|Fr. Martin Juarez, San Pablo Apostol Episcopal, Seaside
|Maria Rocha, Assumption Catholic Church, Pajaro
|Jack Herbig, St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Pacific Grove
|Mark Linder, St. Stephens Lutheran Church, Live Oak
|Sally Torres, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Salinas
|Lupe Jara, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Seaside
Laura Nagel, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel
|Mary Litel Walsh, Resurrection Catholic Church, Aptos
Arturo Aguila, Lead Organizer
Mayra Bernabe, Staff Organizer
Maria Elena Manzo, Staff Organizer
Rosa Vitela, Administrative Assistant
Tim McManus, Supervising Organizer
COPA Member Institutions
Santa Cruz County
|San Pablo Apostolic Episcopal, Seaside
|Alianza Charter School, Watsonville
|Temple Beth El, Aptos
|Walking Together Ministry Of Saint Mary's By The Sea Episcopal, Pacific Grove
|Aptos Community Methodist
|Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Santa Cruz County
|Unitarian universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula
|Unity of Monterrey Bay
|Holy Cross Catholic Church, Santa Cruz
|Assumption Catholic, Pajaro
San Benito County
|Lutheran Community Church, Watsonville
Our Lady of Solitude Catholic, Soledad
|Peace United Church of Christ, Santa Cruz
|Sacred Heart Catholic, Salinas
|Resurrection Catholic Church, Aptos
|Seaside Children’s Center
|Community Housing Improvement Systems And Planning Association
|St. John the Baptist Episcopal, Aptos
|St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Seaside
|Monterrey Bay Central Labor Council
|St. Philp’s Episcopal, Scotts Valley
|St. Mary of the Nativity Catholic, Salinas
Central Coast Center For Independent Living
|St. Stephen’s Lutheran, Live Oak
|San Pablo Apostolic Episcopal, Seaside
|National Union Of Health Care Workers
COPA, 95 Alta Vista Ave, Watsonville, CA 95076 • (831) 728-3210 • www.copaiaf.org • @COPA_IAF
Investing in COPA
The long-term health of COPA depends on our capacity to raise what we call "hard money." This is Money that our leaders raise themselves--through institutional membership dues and individual contributions. COPA’s ability to consistently raise a significant portion of our budget with these funds allows us to be sustainable and to build our own agenda for action.
You can help us raise these funds by becoming an investor in COPA! Please consider visiting copa.nationbuilder.com/donate and making a tax-deductible contribution. You can also set up a recurring donation to COPA by following the link to "become a sustaining investor.” Help us keep democracy alive and flourishing on California's Central Coast!
Laura Nagel, Newsletter Editor
on behalf of COPA
Sponsoring Committee Launched
for a Central Valley IAF in Fresno
Formation of a New Central Valley Affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation. On April 29th over 100 people met via zoom to announce the formation of a Sponsoring Committee that could become a new Central Valley affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the oldest and largest broad-based community organizing institution in the country. They committed to organizing institutions and leaders in an initiative to use their collective power to identify community problems and then bring about change. Leaders gathered from across the Central Valley, but predominantly from Fresno, the largest city in the region with a population of approximately half a million.
Community Needs. Fr. Alex Gaitan from St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church began with a focus statement about conditions he has experienced among his parishioners. Other Central Valley leaders shared their personal stories to explain why they wanted to create certain changes in the community. Jeff Freitas, President of the California Federation of Teachers endorsed the initiative describing Fresno as one of the poorest areas in CA, one of the richest states in the country.
Sponsoring Committee Formed. The Sponsoring Committee is comprised of institutions and leaders committed to providing training opportunities and building relationships among nascent leaders. The purpose of the meeting was to gain commitments and pledges for going forward. During the meeting, attendees made commitments to hold meaningful conversations with 500 people this summer and to organize trainings on both individual and group meetings. They formed three action teams in the following areas: 1) Administration, working on the logistics of creating a new non-profit; 2) Recruitment, working on identifying and recruiting new institutions; and 3) Money, securing contributions towards the organization’s budget.
Over $100,000 in funding commitments. Another endorsement came from Bishop Minerva Carcaño, of the California-Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church who praised the launch and committed her organization to raise $100,000 in support of the initiative. She expressed hope that Central Valley would become a place with good jobs paying fair wages, where all have access to health care and young children receive quality education.
Supporting Leaders and Organizations. Co-Chairs of the meeting were Vicky Flores, Pastor of a United Methodist New Church Start and Keith Ford, President of the State Center Federation of Teachers. Tim McManus, Senior IAF Organizer, spoke about the distinctive aspects of broad-based organizing. Many organizations were represented among the attendees including 31 local community unions, nonprofits, churches, and schools; and 10 national and regional groups including the seven established IAF organizations in CA.
Breaking the Chain of Infection Program in Monterey County
Reaching Thousands of Immigrants and Farmworkers
Breaking the Chain of Infection Program was Awarded $4.9 Million to Fight COVID in Monterey County. Three days before Christmas last year the Monterey County Board of Supervisors awarded $4.9 million to support COPA’s Breaking the Chain Proposal. We advocated hiring 100 community health workers (CHWs) to work in those areas hardest hit by COVID. The CHWs would teach people how to protect their families from infection, help people get tested, provide tangible support so that those who tested positive could isolate successfully, and when vaccines became available, help people get vaccinated.
COPA Helped Design and Implement the Program. The proposal was the result of hundreds of small group meetings where people talked about their families’ experiences during the COVID pandemic. Jack Herbig is one of the co-chairs of the COPA’s Breaking the Chain Task Force that helped design the program and has continued to help guide its implementation. He said he felt like “the dog that caught the car.” “We had heard stories about gaps in the County’s response to COVID and had been discussing these problems with County staff, the Supervisors, and other community organizations. Everyone recognized we were in a health crisis, so in a short period of time the Board awarded the funds and asked the Community Foundation of Monterey County (CFMC) to administer them.” CFMC eventually awarded contracts to 10 community-based organizations (CBOs) that hired CHWs, but many of the CBOs began hiring staff and sending them to training, even before they had executed contracts.
Maria Elena Manzo, the other co-chair of Breaking the Chain, is Director of Mujeres en Acción, a CBO in the Salinas Valley and a member institution of COPA. Mujeres hired 10 community members to work on the CHW program. This was a radical shift for COPA and its member institutions. We usually think of our shared work as community organizing, building the power to change systems, rather than hiring staff and operating programs. For a global pandemic, however, we made an exception. Three COPA institutions, Mujeres en Acción, Building Healthy Communities, and Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA) stepped up and hired additional staff to concentrate on reducing the spread of infection.
110 Community Health Workers Hired through 10 Community-Based Organizations. The official name of the program is Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid (VIDA), which is currently funding over 110 community health workers (some work part time) across 10 organizations. 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,” Manzo says.
Declining Infection Rates. Monterey County has been successful in bringing down the infection levels at a critical time when many foreign workers on H2A visas and migrant workers from Yuma, AZ were returning to the County for the spring planting season. Many organizations in the County have worked hard to bring vaccines to those areas where COVID cases are highest. One of the factors limiting vaccination was the lack of internet access and computer skills, so community health workers helped people register for vaccination appointments. During the time when appointments were scarce, CHWs received special alerts from the County Health department when new vaccination appointments became available.
In the first 3 months of the program (February – April) CHWs made over 74,000 outreach contacts; over 39,000 of these were in April alone. More than 5000 people were vaccinated at CBO-hosted clinics. In April, 88 people who tested positive were provided the essential items (e.g. groceries, diapers, etc.) that they needed to successfully isolate. In addition to these specifically COVID-related activities, CHWs connected people to other resources such as food, rent, utilities, help with medical bills.
Program Expected to Continue. The CHW program was initially funded through June 30, 2021. Though Monterey County’s current infection rate is one of the lowest in the nation, there are still many uncertainties in our situation. No one knows for certain what the impact will be when California reopens fully on June 15th. Presumably, more visitors will be coming to the area. The impact of virus variants and the impact of spending more time indoors in the fall is unclear. No one knows what the vaccination rate will ultimately be and whether vaccine boosters will be needed in the fall. All of these things would affect the continued need for CHWs to work on COVID-related tasks. Consequently, the Board of Supervisors asked that updated impact reports, expenditure reports, and an assessment of projected need be brought back to them for consideration on July 27th.