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On Tuesday, Jan, 19, Kimberly Jackson, Executive Director from the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS), and Jennifer Yeagley, Chief Executive Officer from the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, addressed legislation on community needs at the current stage of the Covid crisis. This came after months of collaboration and meetings in which ISPS coordinated and served as the convener bringing together 15 organizations working in and/or serving the St. Petersburg community to discuss non-partisan public policy to support the community and advise local leaders.
In the fall of 2020, the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions partnered with the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and the Pinellas County Urban League to convene leaders across sectors whose service areas include South St. Petersburg, as well as Pinellas County more broadly, to better understand the landscape of community needs at the current stage of the Covid crisis, encourage collaboration across organizations and prepare for emerging needs as we head into 2021.
The consensus of the group, which included nonprofit sector leaders, funding organizations, leaders in the faith community, elected officials and small business owners, was that meeting basic needs continues to be a critical priority; however, needs beyond the basics of food and shelter are also at a critical stage.
For example, organizations such as the St. Petersburg Free Clinic noted that numbers of individuals served in and through its food programs (through which the organization provides food directly to families, as well as distributes food to partners throughout Pinellas County to do the same) are nearly triple what they were a year ago. Organizations like People Empowering & Restoring Communities (PERC) noted the persistent need for shelter. However, Empath Health indicated that the need for grief counseling was at an all-time high, Area Agency on Aging noted the need to address social isolation among seniors and the City of St. Petersburg spoke to the digital divide among students and the need to ensure access.
What we have learned is that Covid has vastly exacerbated a need for all services for not just those who are already traditionally underserved, but for those who may have been “holding on” and now find themselves in crisis. As Rev. Watson Haynes, CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League shared, service organizations “are seeing an influx of individuals who have been employed for decades, reaching out for services for the first time.”
Amid this cacophony of current needs is the looming housing crisis. As a result of federal programs drawing to a close, and local funders, whose Covid-related resources were in many cases linked to these federal stimulus programs, having exhausted their Covid crisis funds, the next emergency our community faces is the eviction of thousands of people who have been unable to keep up with their rent or mortgages who may soon face homelessness. Also looming is a mental health crisis, which is expected to coincide with the later stages of Covid as economic distress, isolation and the ongoing unknowns as to when the crisis will end continue to pile onto those already grasping at scarce and dwindling resources.
The upcoming legislative session can offer critical relief to communities across Florida, and specifically, Pinellas County. A coordinated plan that delivers real and immediate aid to individuals, additional funding and resources for service providers, stimulus to small businesses and consistent communication to Floridians will make the difference in whether and when Pinellas County will recover and thrive beyond Covid.
View the report here: ISPS-COVID Community Need Summary