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New Orleans community unites in solidarity with large homeless population during pandemic lockdown

By Quest Riggs |
April 21, 2020
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Southern Solidarity at work.
Southern Solidarity at work.

New Orleans, LA - Community members and workers have come together to provide basic emergency relief to thousands of houseless people in New Orleans. After coronavirus locked down the city, they organized a group called Southern Solidarity. The organization works to make up for city officials’ failures in providing food, water and supplies to houseless people.

Southern Solidarity brings together dozens of volunteers on a daily basis. Most of them are furloughed workers who are otherwise social distancing. Volunteers wear masks, gloves, face shields and wash their hands regularly to confront the emergency in a safe way. They gear up and ride across downtown New Orleans. The group delivers hundreds of meals every day along with clothes, hygiene and medical supplies. Southern Solidarity meets houseless people where they’re at, giving out hand sanitizer and thousands of face masks.

Besides meeting immediate emergency needs, the group raises awareness about physical distancing and best practices to stop the spread of coronavirus. It also directs people to the limited resources that the city made available. While hotels opened a few dozen rooms and the government serves some meals, they only scratch the surface of people’s needs in this crisis.

There are roughly 1200 unhoused people in New Orleans. A lot of them have to group together in dense clusters of tents, leaving them highly vulnerable to coronavirus.

Most of the weak medical system is focused on battling the pandemic, so some volunteers serve as first-aid street medics. They are also training to administer Narcan, an emergency treatment to reverse opioid overdoses.

Volunteers purchase food or gather donations of food and supplies from across the city every day. This strategy meets specific needs that are essential to any population (toiletries, feminine products, etc.) and needs that individual unhoused people bring up - size 13 shoes, a cellphone to put minutes on.

Grassroots fundraising pays for all of Southern Solidarity's operating budget. Jasmine Araujo is the lead organizer whose home serves as the base of operations for the group. She said, “Our success and the success of other mutual aid projects popping up around the country represents a shift away from reliance on individual heroes. We are now beginning to see the merits of a focus on community. Our financial success highlights the fact that this is the right time to discuss wealth redistribution.”

As the U.S. has become the clear epicenter of the pandemic, there has been a wave of solidarity among the people. Across the U.S. networks of mutual aid have recruited new energy and many new networks have been organized spontaneously. Among groups like Southern Solidarity the prominent messages are that capitalism is making survival impossible because it fails as a social system, and we need community solidarity to confront that failure.

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