Commentary: A new way of looking at shelter in place
By Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, Americus, GA
For some, “shelter in place” is a different kind of crisis.
With each passing day, we all find ourselves trying to adapt to the measures required to combat the spread of COVID-19. In countries and cultures all around the world, “stay at home” is the message of the moment. “Shelter in place.”
It’s the right thing to do, and if we are all able to flatten the curve, we know that we will have, together, saved countless lives.
But all of us at Habitat for Humanity also know that there are far too many families for whom this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.The uncertainty so many of us feel today, these families have felt for a lifetime – in not generations.
Where for many “shelter in place” means figuring out logistics and adjusting mindsets, for others it only exacerbates the conditions with which they have struggled for so long. Houses already not healthy because of leaks or mold. Homes already overcrowded because the only way to afford rent or save up money is for extended family to stay together in a too-small space. Homes without easy access to a constant water supply. Spaces that shelter, but only just.
Where for many“stock up on what you need” means a frustrating, jarring trip through the inconveniently (and temporarily) hit-or-miss stocked shelves of a local market, for others it’s a reminder of how close to the financial edge they have already been living every day.Imagine that, for these families, shopping for supplies always feels this way – not because of the crowds around them hurrying to acquire whatever they can, but because they have to make terrible choices everyday. In order to make sure the rent can be paid, which would you choose? Filling a basket with healthy groceries. Filling a necessary prescription. Filling the tank of your car with the fuel that allows you to do either.
When these are the choices you face, you can’t win. As the economic shocks from this crisis ripple out, these same families will be hardest hit. They always are. For far too many, as businesses have closed and hourly workers have lost their jobs, it has already begun. These are the families with whom we partner.
They are going to need our hand up now more than ever. And now more than ever, our work – much like flattening the curve – will require all of us, together. You can help us help these families, these communities, our neighbors, build back.