In the last three years, El Paso’s resilience has been tested. 2018 put El Paso at the center of an international migration crisis, in 2019 the community was a target of a domestic terror attack and just when the city began to recover, the COVID-19 crisis descended. Even though the extent of these crises could not have been predicted, El Paso was prepared. Prepared not just because of the emergency response systems in place, but because the community itself is engaged, empowered and resilient.
El Paso United Family Resiliency Center (FRC)
On August 3, 2019, a young man entered a busy Walmart in El Paso and opened fire. His actions resulted in the death of 23 individuals, 48 injured and countless others deeply affected.
The need to stand up a resiliency center for long-term community recovery was identified. In collaboration with county and city governments and funding through the Office of the Governor, United Way of El Paso County (UWEPC) was entrusted to be the backbone agency to host the El Paso United Family Resiliency Center (FRC) and lead efforts in long-term recovery.
With input from community leaders, stakeholders, future FRC participants and staff, UWEPC developed a comprehensive strategy for the FRC. The action plan considered the needs of participants as well as the desires of the general community.
The FRC opened its doors on December 19, 2019 offering a place of healing and support dedicated to serving those directly and indirectly affected by the tragedy. The focus of the FRC is to disseminate information and assist community members in navigating the variety of services available in response to August 3rd.
Culturally sensitive and trained resiliency navigators provide referrals for counseling, financial planning, legal guidance and spiritual care as well as offer documentation assistance, education on reducing mental health stigmas and peer support groups.
2020 tested the resiliency of El Paso once again with an estimated 453,000 El Pasoans highly or moderately affected by job loss, reduced income, inadequate childcare, stress/anxiety and other factors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Modeled on the success of the FRC, the Community Resiliency Center will address the needs of individuals and families within El Paso County by increasing awareness and assisting with the navigation of COVID-19 services.
At the onset of the pandemic a cross functional team of City of El Paso departments was created to manage the challenges of COVID-19. That team was charged with equitably deploying pandemic relief programs and support to ensure not only strong emergency response, but also an inclusive and resilient recovery plan aimed at making the El Paso Community ultimately stronger and more prepared than ever before.
The first step was to initiate the community resilience needs assessment to capture a snapshot of vulnerabilities and priorities at the onset of the pandemic. Non-profits, partner public entities and neighborhood stakeholders were called upon to establish an informed prioritization of needs.
The COVID-19 community needs assessment revealed the following priorities:
Housing + Basic Needs: Ensure that those impacted by COVID-19 have access to food, utilities, shelter, childcare services, and homes free of domestic violence.
Livelihood + Employment: Deliver direct financial support to individuals, families and small businesses struggling to meet financial obligations because of the pandemic.
Once priorities were established, the city proceeded to identify community partners who would be key to deploying the over $31 million in aid that was committed to the relief program. In the months since the start of the pandemic, over 10,000 households have been provided rental support, over 2,600 households were able to keep utilities running, 2,000 families and essential workers have access to childcare and over 103 million pounds of food have been distributed.
Another highlight has been El Paso’s ability to provide shelter and support for those experiencing homelessness. The City of El Paso, alongside community partners, immediately rallied to create surge capacity and immediately relocate over 80 individuals into a new shelter.
Equity Response to Tragedy
Over the last two years, the El Paso community has faced tragedies that have exacerbated existing racial, ethnic, and gender disparities. In that time, YWCA has intervened with multiple programs created specifically to heal the physical, emotional, and psychological scars left behind.
Increasing access to high quality childcare
In the summer of 2020, YWCA partnered with the city to provide childcare and emergency respite childcare as part of the COVID relief effort. The partnership between the YWCA and the city made possible more than half a million dollars in childcare at no cost to families. More than keeping families working, this program kept hundreds of children connected to remote schoolwork, ultimately keeping the COVID learning gap closed.
Providing shelter, support and care for women experiencing homelessness
The Sara McKnight Transitional Living Center (TLC) is a 19-unit dormitory-style facility that caters to women and children largely experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence. The TLC staff stabilize, support, and advocate for each participant on an individual basis and provide meaningful, positive developmental activities for children and youth. Also on the TLC campus, the Rapid Rehousing facility offers rent and utility assistance for clients. Due to the incredible commitment of the Homeless Services Staff and the inspiring strength of clients, there has never been a break in service at the TLC.
Leading community conversations around social equality and empowerment
Following the August 3, 2019 shooting, YWCA spearheaded a series of dinner conversations where community members could engage in civil discussions about issues related to race and racism in light of the trauma El Pasoans had suffered. When COVID took away the ability to meet in person, those discussions were held virtually.
In March of 2020, YWCA introduced a two-pronged approach to introducing community-wide online racial justice initiatives. Reading with YWCA offers guided readings of children’s literature featuring diverse characters and subject matter. The Courageous Conversation series features guest speakers and panels discussing social issues over Zoom.