The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted not only in COVID-related illness and deaths in Baltimore, but widespread quarantines, job loss, food insecurity, economic insecurity, the suspension of in-person public education, and many other challenges. OSI-Baltimore has been working with our national and international colleagues, our many local partners, and community-based leaders to identify areas where we can bring expertise and resources to address these challenges. These are some of the steps we have taken so far.
One of OSI’s first responses to the COVID-19 pandemic was the creation of an Information and Resources Page on the OSI website, including an extensive, curated list of federal, state, and local government resources, community resources, and educational and arts resources. It has grown to include a Social Justice Syllabus of suggested reading material and has been shared and visited by thousands of Baltimore residents.
Also from the earliest days of the pandemic, OSI’s Community Fellows stepped up to support marginalized communities in any way they could. An incomplete roundup of their efforts is here.
On April 16, OSI-Baltimore announced its largest investment in response to COVID-19: $1 million in direct financial and other emergency support for workers in Baltimore who have been hit hard by COVID-19 and are at greatest risk of falling into extreme hardship, including those who are unemployed and the formerly incarcerated. These funds were part of Open Society Foundations’ global response to COVID-19. Subsequent to the announcement, OSF’s International Migration Initiative (IMI) announced that it would contribute an additional $250,000 to the fund to support particularly marginalized workers, including undocumented immigrants, bringing the total investment to support impacted workers in Baltimore to $1.25 million. This IMI investment is part of a public-private partnership with 18 cities to build capacity of localities to deploy cash support in response to COVID, including a potential collaboration with the City of Baltimore which would deploy an estimated $6 million for that purpose.
In addition to OSI’s fund, OSI partnered with nine other funders investing in the Baltimore Small Business Support Fund, spearheaded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to help local women- and minority-owned businesses affected by the COVID pandemic access local, state, and federal sources of aid.
OSI’s Education and Youth Development program is investing $200,000 and working with other funders, including The Abell Foundation, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Baltimore City, which has committed $3 million, in a public-private partnership to establish a MESH network that would extend the internet connectivity of city schools to the homes of students who are otherwise disconnected and allow them to participate in remote learning. Funding would also support hardware purchases for students in need.
OSI is working with grassroots groups, including Black Girls Vote, Baltimore Votes, and the No Boundaries Coalition, on a broad voter education and communications campaign to keep marginalized communities from being disenfranchised by the shift to vote by mail in the April 28 special election and June 2 Maryland primary. So far, this has included weekly webinars for community leaders, advocates, candidates, and the public; public service announcements on TV and radio; digital media campaigns; earned media coverage on WMAR, WOLB’s The Larry Young Show, Maryland Matters, and the DMV Daily podcast. We are also coordinating with partners on the Party at the Mailbox campaign and other efforts leading up to June 2.
OSI’s Addiction and Health Equity and Criminal and Juvenile Justice programs co-released a request for proposals designed to prevent and decrease incarceration and overdose among populations most at risk for COVID-19. The programs will fund selected proposals up to $50,000 each.
For weeks, OSI’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice program has convened justice advocates from around the states in a series of calls about ways to address the urgent threat of COVID-19 to incarcerated populations in Maryland. These calls, facilitated by the ACLU, have helped advocates galvanize around a set of demands for Governor Hogan and have thus far, resulted in the expedited release of hundreds of at-risk incarcerated people.
These efforts represent the first wave of OSI-Baltimore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to share news as additional efforts roll out.