Resilient Neighborhoods: How 3 Detroit nonprofits are making COVID-19 resources more accessible

Southwest Detroiter Mariela Brook Trejo had a frustrating experience taking a family member to get vaccinated for COVID-19 earlier this year. She arrived at the vaccination site, only to watch her relative – who doesn’t speak English and isMariela Brook Trejo undocumented – get denied access to a vaccine.
Trejo, who's a member of the COVID313 Community Coalition, knows all about COVID-19 vaccine requirements; the Detroit Health Department shared that information during several of the town halls the coalition sponsors – and residential status isn't one of them. She relayed this fact to workers at the vaccination distribution site she visited, but her family member was still turned away.

“They were denying us the vaccine because ‘it wasn’t an American identification,'" says Trejo, who explained that her family member only had a Mexican ID, though it did show their Detroit address. “It turned out to be an issue with [the site] training their employees. But I think that’s where my initiative for bringing vaccines to Southwest stemmed [from].”

Responding to COVID-19 challenges

From the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities across the nation. According to data gathered by The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project between March 2020 and March 2021, African Americans have been much more likely to die of the virus than other racial groups in Michigan, with a rate of 264 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 143 per 100,000 for white people. Meanwhile, Native Americans were found most likely to contract COVID-19, at a rate of 6,745 per 100,000 people, followed closely by Latinx people at 6,673 per 100,000.

Faced with new challenges like the delta variant, several Detroit-based nonprofits have had to shift their priorities during the pandemic to help ensure the neighborhoods they serve gain better access to COVID-centered information, testing, and vaccines.

One of these is Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI) in Southwest Detroit, where Trejo works as a communications and volunteer coordinator. Her experience having a family member denied a vaccine motivated Trejo to fight for greater vaccine access and COVID-related resources in her neighborhood with the assistance of UNI. 

At the start of the pandemic, UNI jumped into action days before the statewide shutdown, partnering with Gleaners to distribute food boxes biweekly in Southwest Detroit neighborhoods. UNI’s Executive Director, Christine Bell, looked at the early COVID-19 outbreak data and saw that their area was doing very well compared to other parts of Detroit. 

“But then we started asking questions,” says Bell. “There was only one place in Southwest that was testing, and it was $100 to get a test. So that was the backdrop for wanting to make sure we had testing available for residents.” 

After residents got access to free testing through UNI in partnership with Wayne Health and the Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) Center, Bell says they discovered they had some of the highest positivity rates in the city. In addition to testing and supplying food boxes to residents, UNI has also held weekly virtual town halls in partnership with the COVID313 Community Coalition, dropped off cleaning supplies to local families, and distributed cash assistance for necessities such as utilities.

Covenant Community Care curbside testingOutreach and clinical care

On the city’s west side, Joy Southfield Community Development Corporation (JSCDC) and its partner Covenant Community Care have also been active in responding to COVID-19. 

Covenant, which runs a health clinic on Joy Road, has administered tests and vaccine shots to residents in the community. And in an effort to make their services more approachable, it's offered these services curbside. Meanwhile JSCDC, which focuses on addressing social determinants of health, has been gathering and sharing information with residents.

“We went door-to-door canvassing the community, asking if they had resources or if they knew where to get tested,” says Tricia Blake-Smith, Director of Community Health for JSCDC. 

Prior to the release of the vaccine, the nonprofit focused heavily on health education and COVID-19 awareness. More recently, it's promoted vaccine awareness and encouraged vaccine appointments at the clinic through its programming. Covenant too has also been involved in outreach efforts.  

“We were providing [vaccines] to anyone and everyone who wanted to be scheduled that was in the appropriate age range and criteria,” says Ashley Taurence, Covenant's clinic nurse supervisor at the Joy Road facility. “We did a huge outreach for the 65-and-up age group, initially reaching those folks first, and after that, expanding on the age groups and what you do for work.”

East Side Community Health Fair at the Stoudamire Wellness HubAddressing vaccine reluctance
On the city's east side, Eastside Community Network (ECN) has been heavily focused on addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among residents. 

“One of our big pushes is to bring awareness of what the vaccine is, how it is beneficial, and to offer services to provide it,” says Deborah Trotter, Marketing and Communications Manager for ECN. “We’ve been able to do that through the CDC’s Partnering for Vaccine Equity Program that updates us monthly with COVID information, and we take the information back to our community and spread awareness through our social media and email blasts.” 

ECN has also distributed a vaccine confidence survey to find out how residents felt about the vaccine, if they had questions or concerns, and if they needed COVID-related materials such as masks and hand sanitizer. The survey results surprised the nonprofit's team. 

“We found that we didn’t have much resistance, but we did have hesitancy, and it was because a lot of people just didn’t know what information was correct or not,” says Trotter. “From there, we’ve learned that a lot of people just want to know that the information they’re getting is trusted.”

Beyond that, the nonprofit also held a Nov. 13 community health fair at its headquarters, the Stoudamire Wellness Hub, where residents could get access to COVID vaccines.

Remaining vigilant

Since the introduction of vaccines last year, efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in Michigan have slowly been making progress. As of Nov. 27, 70.9% of Michiganders ages 16 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 68.3% of Wayne County residents have taken at least one dose of the vaccine. And more than 10% of Michigan children ages 5-11 have had their first dose.
Though UNI, JSCDC, and ECN have already done a lot of work in their respective communities, these three organizations are working hard to keep their residents safe, informed and healthy as the pandemic evolves.

UNI plans to keep up its work holding conversations with residents, and making the vaccine accessible to Southwest Detroiters. It hosts bi-weekly vaccine clinics at the Springdale Green Lot, across from their office at 8300 Longworth St, Detroit, MI 48209.
JSCDC and Covenant Community Care aim to expand their COVID-related efforts by going into schools and hosting conversations with parents about getting their children tested and vaccinated. Residents can schedule an appointment by calling 313-446-8800.

ECN intends to continue its partnership with Wayne Health to host events for residents to get tested, vaccinated, or to speak with a healthcare professional on site to educate themselves about the vaccine.
Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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Read more articles by Kyla L. Wright.