Among the organizations calling for a rent-collection freeze and other measures intended to help Coloradans at risk financially and in other ways as a result of the COVID-19 crisis is the Front Range Mutual Aid Network, whose River Dougherty illustrates the need for such actions by citing a worst-case scenario.
"We had a paramedic reach out to us to say he was kicked out of his apartment — for being a paramedic," Dougherty claims.
Dougherty isn't providing the name of this individual in order to protect his privacy. But his dilemma certainly connects to a broader narrative of health-care professionals of all types becoming victims of bias because some members of the public fear that they could be carriers of the novel coronavirus, particularly given the well-documented shortage of personal-protective equipment, or PPEs, in Colorado and across the country.
"Reducing Stigma," a page on the federal Centers for Disease Control website, notes that "public health emergencies, such as the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), are stressful times for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things." The three groups listed as most susceptible to such mistreatment under current circumstances are "persons of Asian descent" and "people who have traveled," because the outbreak began in China and spread internationally before reaching the U.S., as well as "emergency responders or healthcare professionals."
Horror stories involving the latter have surfaced in places such as India and the Philippines, with a rising number now set in the United States. The National Public Radio staple Here and Now recently interviewed a man who'd contracted the virus during a cruise on the Diamond Princess, a ship that suffered a major outbreak among passengers and crew. The man was quarantined, and his wife was put in separate isolation for an extended period of time even though she never tested positive for the virus. Nonetheless, he said that the family's dog-sitter had been fired from a second job after his boss learned that he'd had contact with the man's uninfected wife when she was allowed to return home.
The Front Range Mutual Aid Network states that its mission is "to connect people and encourage as wholesome a mutual aid relationship as possible, with emphasis on coming together to help outside communities. To provide each with their needs, from each of our means." Dougherty confirms that "this public-health crisis has led to a spike in interest in our group. We'd been organizing for two years before any kind of pandemic brought us to the attention of people. But now, everyone needs to get used to stepping up and helping each other and not depending on some unspecified entity to come in with assistance to save the day. Looking back on history, the only time tenants have won anything is when they've stood up at the ground level and demanded what they need."
The network is supporting the petition because "we've experienced a massive influx of people needing work," Dougherty continues. "It all stems from people not having income and landlords not only demanding their usual rent, but also sometimes asking them to pay more than usual because of unexpected fees."
As for the prospect of eviction simply for working in the medical field, Dougherty has a personal reason for concern, since "I work as a home health-care aide," he reveals. Thus far, though, the main issues he's witnessed are economic in nature: "I've had my hours consolidated because my client wants to limit his exposure. But more than half of my colleagues have lost their jobs. So people are either being overworked or underworked."
Obtaining PPEs has been a challenge, too, he confirms: "I've had to acquire them myself. My employer usually covers that through his health insurance; he'll buy gloves and masks. But because of all the panic buying, he was not able to get any supplies from his insurance provider, so we've had to scrounge around for spare gloves and things like that on eBay." He's also received support from the union affiliate Colorado Care Workers Unite.
The longer COVID-19 rages, the more examples of discrimination against health-care workers Dougherty expects to hear. He emphasizes that everyone needs to "stand up for the most vulnerable," as well as those who are risking their lives to care for them.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.