Crucial safety supplies were distributed to more than 2,200 NYCHA residents across 1,046 apartments throughout the complex.
“Even though it seems like we beat COVID, the virus is still out there and still highly contagious,” said association president Manny Martinez. “We don’t know if the second wave is coming or not, so people need to have all the protocols in regards to safety.”
Packages contained an eight-ounce bottle of disinfectant, either a five-pack of reusable face masks or 10 disposable masks, and up to four pairs of gloves- essentials that Martinez says are of limited access to residents.
“In our community, PPE isn’t accessible,” he explained. “Pharmacies don’t have rubbing alcohol and other needed items. It’s sad to say, but it’s not surprising.”
Martinez also expressed chagrin with local elected officials, who he says failed to execute due diligence when it came to supplying PPE for NYCHA tenants during the pandemic.
COVID-19 presents a sizable threat to public housing communities, with black and Latino New Yorkers - demographics city data shows have been hardest hit by the virus - making up a large part of NYCHA tenant population.
Coronavirus data posted by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on June 14 shows that both the hospitalization and death rates for the city’s black and Latino residents continue to reach more than double those of their white and Asian counterparts.
Back in April, Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to provide masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to NYCHA residents as part of an effort to address that disparity.
When supplies showed up, however, Martinez says he was surprised to find the state-issued sanitizer delivered in numerous gallon-sized jugs rather than individual bottles.
When he reached out to NYCHA for assistance in dividing the inventory, Martinez was told his association was left to figure out distribution of the 108 gallons of disinfectant on its own, a task that would make equitable access to the supplies very difficult.
Martinez approached state senators Leroy Comrie and James Sanders Jr., who after several weeks of delayed correspondence ended up taking the state-issued masks with a promise to facilitate their distribution.
Along with other local politicians, they organized what he describes as a poorly promoted food and mask giveaway event that in the end served more non-NYCHA community members than those who live in South Jamaica Houses.
During a conversation with one of the housing complex’s neighborhood coordination officers (NCO), Martinez mentioned his struggles with getting PPE to residents. Within a matter of days, the officer organized a donation of nearly 4,000 masks from the NYPD, and the department offered up manpower for package distribution.
The team was also able to finally acquire 1,100 8-ounce bottles in order to divide the hand sanitizer.
For NYPD Chief of Housing David Barrere, the culmination of the weekend’s event reflects a “perfect example” of the force’s neighborhood coordination strategy, which seeks to build relationships between NCOs, community leaders and residents.
When asked if current tensions between residents and the NYPD are influencing the operations of its housing unit, Barrere said that ongoing protests against police brutality would not deter the department’s commitment to NYCHA residents and their safety.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said in reference to citywide calls for police reform. “This is an opportunity to work with our community and listen to everything that’s being said, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.”
According to Barrere, the NYPD has distributed roughly 60,000 masks and more than 40,000 meals to NYCHA residents since the start of the city’s battle with COVID-19.
“I'm a firm believer in the police are the community, and the community are the police,” explained the chief. “Without working together, we will never ever be successful. I think the strength that we’ve built will see us through.”