April 2020 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! It’s been 6 weeks since my last email, and it feels like it’s been a long year. The local, state, and national situation has been changing daily – sometimes twice a day – as we have tried to find the right path to keeping people safe during this global pandemic.

( TLDR: Come to Virtual Office Hours Friday morning 8-10am )

Twitter and Facebook have been good tools for staying informed with all of the rapid changes, and the city’s central information hubs at www.somervillema.gov/coronavirus and www.somervillema.gov/coronavirushelp have been great repositories for the many policy updates as well as resources that the city is making available for residents. The School Department has also been amazing, providing computers, food, and diapers for families that rely on schools for access to these basic needs. And those efforts are expanding with the newly announced “Somerville Cares” program being administered by the City and CAAS. (See https://www.caasomerville.org/somerville-cares-fund for details.)

In short, though, we’re working to get people the help they need to do the right thing and stay inside. There’s no good reason for anyone to go hungry or lose their housing right now. If you are worried about it, please give me a call and I’ll get you help.

In the last 4 weeks we’ve transitioned all city business to online formats and even public hearings are being conducted by web conference. If you’d like to listen in to the weekly briefing the City Council receives, the Public Health and Public Safety Committee is meeting every Monday for several hours of information, discussion, and planning. (Our next one will be Tuesday, due to Patriots Day.) You can see the meeting schedule at https://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx – I encourage you to check out an agenda and tune in. If you can’t catch them live, you can see the replay there as well. For example, here was this Monday’s meeting.

One of the most inspiring efforts I’ve been involved with has been Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville – www.mutualaidmamas.com – a truly local movement to get people connected and supported in their neighborhoods. This all-volunteer crew is doing amazing work to support people and has even staffed a 24-hour hotline. In the early days of this crisis these neighbors helped people who were falling through the cracks, and continue to be an amazing example of what we can do for each other.

I’m not going to even attempt to recap all the information available on those websites in this newsletter – I already tend to make these too long. But even while all of that is happening to try to keep city government moving and working for you, the usual business of living and getting by continues.

I’ve gotten calls from people needing help with food or having landlord troubles; fortunately I’ve been able to connect people to resources to help with that. I’ve gotten calls for masks and hand sanitizer, and the local Mutual Aid networks have been able to deliver. Questions about water bills, tax bills, and filing for unemployment assistance come in, and I’m happy to answer them.

But there’s other (maybe more mundane) things that people worry about: a construction crew working despite the current ban, a restaurant too crowded for safe operation, trash starting to build up due to street sweeping being delayed… those are real issues too, and I’m happy to take your calls and get those issues addressed.

The fact is that without comprehensive testing (which we have not gotten and will not be getting soon) we have no idea the full scope of the epidemiology we’re dealing with, and it’s very likely we’re going to be in this “social distancing” situation for a long time.

What that means to me is that we can’t just tough it out and “try to get by a little while longer”. We can’t put off the problems we see until things “return to normal”. Trust me, with two small kids at home, mortgage, and a business that is shut down for the duration – I feel the strain that we’re all dealing with. But hoping it goes away won’t get us through.

Whatever problems we face now, we need to figure out a way to fix them – or at least make them bearable. We need to help each other figure out the rent, food, bills. We need to figure out work, whether that’s working from home or working as safely as possible at “essential jobs”. For small businesses, we need to figure out how to keep everyone safe and supported so that when this does end there will be businesses to return to.

That’s why I’m hopeful about the work the entire City government is doing, and the measures we’re pushing with our State delegation (Sen Jehlen and Reps Connolly and Provost here in Ward 2), and the conversations with our Federal delegation – especially Ayanna Presley and Ed Markey – that will move towards a sustainable and supportive path forward for everyone.

That’s also why I’m happy to take your calls and work on finding solutions with you. While we may need to stay at home for everyone’s safety, we can’t just “wait it out” – we have to work together to find a way to get us all through this protracted mess.

That means that we’ll find ways to have neighborhood meetings. We’ll stay connected. I’ll find ways to honor my commitment to you for transparency and accountability. That’s why tomorrow morning I’ll be hosting Virtual Office Hours from 8am to 10am as a way to make sure y’all can just come on in and have a conversation, like we had every single Friday morning from January 12 2018 to March 13 2020.

(Link to join Virtual Office Hours is here – drop in and say hi! Please join from your computer, tablet or smartphone anytime from 8-10am Friday morning at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/602652581 )

The work doesn’t end just because the world has changed: even last night I was proud to see three appointments confirmed to the Planning Board, reaching the conclusion of a very long saga bringing accountability to one of the worst boards in the city. As Finance Chair, I’ll be working hard with my colleagues and city staff to find a way through this crisis, provide the help we all need, and still keep the city afloat through the next few years.

I know we’re all doing the best you can, just like the rest of our neighbors. Thanks for being in it with me, and let me know when you need help.

-JTS

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