Austin Latino Coalition creates volunteer task force, says city is working too slow

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Latino Coalition Member Paul Saldana said they’ve attempted to work with the City of Austin to create a Latino Task Force, but have not had any luck.

“We are disappointed that the city has really reneged on its commitments that they made to us and so at this point, we have had no other choice than to fend for ourselves but we are used to that,” he said.

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At present, 25 volunteers conduct outreach and provide resources to those in the community that makes up about 35% of the population, but accounts for 60% of positive COVID-19 cases.

“We all have full-time jobs, we all have families and we’re spending an enormous amount of time doing this,” Saldana said. “None of us are getting paid and we’re all volunteers. What we’re doing is because we care about our community, and if folks who are responsible and in charge are not doing it, then we have to do it ourselves.”

Austin Public Health leaders said they’re working on the city’s task force, and are offering resources until a task force is created. Recently, the health department hosted its first Facebook Live event in Spanish.

Austin Public Health hosts Latinx Community Forum about the impact of the coronavirus on the Hispanic Community. (Facebook: Austin Public Health)

“It really was an opportunity for us to hear from that community about the challenges as well as the successes and where they would like Austin public health to go as we continue to plan the response,” Adrienne Sturrup, the Austin Public Health Acting Director said. “Internally we’ve done a good job of planning for our communities, but as we’re learning, this pandemic is different from our typical response efforts and so it will be an iterative process and we want to make sure that our community engagement strategy captures all aspects and facets of our community.

In a June 11 city memo, Austin Public Health released an outline focused on addressing the disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations, including Latino communities.

The memo lists long-term recommendations including resources for high-risk populations, a draft plan for review to Commission on Immigrant Affairs, Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission, Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission, African American Resources Advisory Commission, Joint Inclusion Committee, Human Rights Commission and the City of Austin Equity Office. As well as a look at forming a COVID-19 Community Advisory Committee with community advocates on board to provide insight.

At present, Saldana said without a task force, the city is making mistakes. He said city leaders cannot operate on a one-size-fits-all approach, specifically criticizing the educational outreach the city is providing.

“It’s important to note that our community is not monolithic,” he said. “We have at least 25 subcultures of Latinos in Austin, so a simple Spanish translation isn’t going to work. It has to be culturally relevant. We’re not all Mexican Americans or Mexican.”

Sturrup said the response to this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, but as cases go up, Saldana said time is of the essence and his community cannot wait.

“A lot of people in our Latino community feel somewhat abandoned by the city,” he said.

When asked in an interview on KXAN News Today about why the city is taking so long creating the Latinx Task Force, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said, “I don’t think there is a hold-up. We’re moving forward.”

“We have a real crisis right now with respect to the Latinx population. That’s why the public health department, Community Care, Central Health and others have been doubling, tripling and quadrupling efforts, and we have to do more.”

The next Austin Public Health conversation  focusing on communities of color won’t be until July 11.

“That will be focused on all communities of color and be open to speakers of other native languages, Spanish, Vietnamese,” Sturrup said. “We’ve been talking to or with different leaders in the LatinX community about what our next steps should be, and so I think we’ve all had the time to do.”

This Saturday, the Austin Latino Coalition says it has set up free testing for 300 construction workers at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in North Austin.

Travis County has this hotline for anyone to set up a free test, or schedule a test at home, by calling (512) 972-5560.

The Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin, or HABLA, will host a Facebook live discussion on the disproportionate impacts on Latinos in Austin. Interim Austin Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott will be part of the discussion at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Dell Medical School is having a similar discussion on the impact the virus is having on minorities. The hospital and the Travis County Medical Society will host a free webinar Thursday at 6 p.m.

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