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6abc’s Visions Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month around Philadelphia

September 30, 2020

6abc’s Visions Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month around Philadelphia, hosted by Walter Perez and Jeannette Reyes

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Visions is 6abc’s tribute to Hispanic Heritage month. The celebration began on Sept. 15 and marks the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Hispanic population in the U-S now tops 60 million people and locally, Hispanic Americans are making major contributions to the region.

PHL COVID-19 Fund awards $400,000 to Philadelphia-area nonprofits

September 28, 2020
PHL COVID-19 Fund awards $400,000 to Philadelphia-area nonprofits

The PHL COVID-19 Fund has awarded $400,00 to 23 Philadelphia-area nonprofits in the latest round of grants.

The fund, which launched March 19 to help local nonprofits in response to the pandemic, is a collaboration led by the City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Foundation, and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

This was the eighth set of grants, totaling $17.9 million. A total of 575 grants have been awarded, with some nonprofits receiving more than one grant.

Among the 23 nonprofits receiving grants in this round is The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which works to advance health care by implementing person-centered programs that improve care for people with complex health and social needs.

“The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, like nonprofits throughout our region, is safely providing our existing programming while adapting to emerging needs related to COVID-19,” said Kathleen Noonan, the Coalition’s CEO. “With support from funders like the PHL COVID-19 Fund that have been responsive and swift in their giving, we have been able to focus on the vital work of supporting our community, which has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

Another recipient was the Leon H. Sullivan Charitable Trust, which provides programming that facilitates economic and community development opportunities. The Trust operates a 67,000-square-foot building, The Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center, that provides deeply discounted working space for nonprofits delivering social and human services to residents of North Philadelphia and the surrounding communities.

“These resources will enable us to maintain an acceptable standard of safety for our tenants and their clients who benefit from the health and human services, at the Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center,” said Mable Welborn, board chair of

The fund remains open and will continue to grant money on a rolling basis. If you wish to contribute, visit phlcovid19fund.org.

“Safely reopening and prioritizing people’s needs are top of mind as we continue to respond, recover, and rebuild,” said Bill Golderer, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “As we focus on rebuilding efforts, it will take all of us working together to ensure that funding, resources and long-term planning remains a top priority to help our neighbors come back stronger and our communities more resilient.”

Here are the 23 nonprofit organizations that received the recent grant

African Cultural Alliance of North America, $25,000; Agape African Senior Center, $4,000; Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia Foundation, $13,000; Asociación Puertorriqueños En Marcha, $25,000; Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, $25,000; Caring for Friends & Muslims Serve, $10,000; Chester County OIC, $25,000; Family Service of Chester County, $5,000; ICNA Relief SHAMS Clinic, $5,000; Indochinese American Council, $25,000, Korean Senior Citizens Association of Greater Philadelphia, $4,000; Leon H. Sullivan Charitable Trust, $25,000.

Maternal and Child Health Consortium of Chester County, $20,000; Maternity Care Coalition, $25,000; Montgomery County Community College Foundation, $20,000; Montgomery County OIC, $10,000; Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, $25,000; Philadelphia Youth Network, $25,000; SEAMAAC, $25,000; Sisters Returning Home, $19,000; The Work Group, $25,000; Urban Youth Kings and Queens, $4,000; Veterans Multi-Service Center, $25,000.

The Inquirer is owned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which operates under the auspices of the Philadelphia Foundation.

2020 Feria Del Barrio to go virtual, honor unsung heroes of the pandemic

September 28, 2020

An apartment complex for North Philly gets nixed amid debate of future of American Street

September 28, 2020
An apartment complex for North Philly gets nixed amid debate of future of American Street

TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Ambitious plans for a high-rise apartment complex along American Street are being abandoned amid pandemic concerns, community opposition, and concerns about potential environmental contamination at the site, the developer said in an interview Friday.

Meanwhile, a proposal to guarantee more affordable housing on American Street from the area’s councilmember, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who has sought to transform the industrial corridor into an area welcoming to commercial and residential development, is being significantly altered to give the community more say in what’s built there, her office reported. Quiñones-Sánchez reported the shift in plans, and that she was withdrawing entirely another bill that would have paved the way for the apartment complex, during a meeting with community groups Thursday night.

“There is still much work to be done to ensure affordability in a diverse mixed-income community while preserving the neighborhood’s rich history,” she said Saturday.

The news shifted the tone Saturday of what was supposed to be a protest against the bill at César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden. The gathering turned into a celebration for members of the community concerned the apartment development would hasten gentrification in the area.

“This is a culmination of efforts we put together to help the people keep what they have,” said Anthony Patrick, 34.

Quiñones-Sánchez has said that with developers snapping up the many vacant properties in the community, rezoning offered a way for the city to ensure that the flurry of development included affordable units and restrictions that would benefit the people living in the community. Meanwhile, American Street has never lived up to its promise as an industrial hub for the city, she has said.

The rezoning would have required developers who got permission to build mixed residential and commercial development on American Street from Oxford Street to Lehigh Avenue to include an affordable housing element. That stretch of American Street currently is zoned only for light industrial development. Now, her staff reported, any mixed-use development would need to consult with local community organizations and would still need to seek a variance, which would allow the opportunity for community input. The proposal would also require any residential development to set aside 20% of its units as affordable housing, market those units to people living in the community first, and provide a plan for commercial space to generate local jobs.

Community members gather for the Kill the Bill Speak Out & Block Party in North Philadelphia on Saturday.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Community members gather for the Kill the Bill Speak Out & Block Party in North Philadelphia on Saturday.

Communities on both sides of American Street are in a state of flux. For decades they’ve been poor and economically disadvantaged, but in recent years grassroots revitalization efforts have been overtaken by Philadelphia’s hot development scene. At the center of the tension is the neighborhood’s wealth of vacant properties. After years of demolition, Philadelphia owns hundreds of vacant lots in the area that over the years have been unofficially adopted in the heavily Latino community as side yards and community gardens. Many there would like to see them stay that way, while others see them as opportunity for revitalization, housing, and tax revenue.

Keeping land undeveloped means it won’t be used to its full potential, said Michael Scannapieco, who represents the apartment complex’s developer Urban Intent, an affiliate of Scannapieco Development Corp. Leaving the lots vacant, he said, ultimately boosts the cost of housing for everyone else.

“All that does is put upward pressure on land prices,” he said.

Philadelphia issued eight times as many building permits in 2019 as in 2015 in just one census tract in the neighborhood. The median home price as of August was $140,000, according to the real estate site Zillow, almost double what it was in August 2010.

The people who maintain Iglesias Garden, though, see the land as valuable without anything on it. The garden has a tenuous existence, planted on vacant lots owned by both the city and private interests. New housing may create tax revenue, Patrick said, but the open land could also be used for other community needs, including rec centers and open space. The community gardens that have taken over so many of the vacant lots mitigate poverty for the neighborhood as well by providing produce.

“That’s time, effort, and money they don’t have to spend in a supermarket,” he said.

The garden’s tenders, many of them affiliated with the Philly Socialists, have fought the two zoning bills, calling the one that would have allowed the apartment complex an example of spot zoning.

“I see it as a win,” said Mara Henao, one of the opponents of the bill. “What they were trying to do with that bill is illegal.”

Mara Henao, cochair of Philly Socialist and a resident of Kensington, speaks about the problems of gentrification and its impacts on community gardens and other green spaces.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Mara Henao, cochair of Philly Socialist and a resident of Kensington, speaks about the problems of gentrification and its impacts on community gardens and other green spaces.

Urban Intent abandoned the plan for apartments at 265 W. Berks St., the former site of Morris Iron & Steel, in part due to concerns about possible environmental contamination there, Scannapieco said. Other factors included the risk from the coronavirus, and the soon-to-expire 10-year tax abatement from the city. He said the company was still interested in developing affordable homes on adjacent property in cooperation with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a neighborhood nonprofit.

That development has been described as including 40 rowhouses, but APM’s president and executive director, Nilda Iris Ruiz, said recently that the details of the project are not finalized. The organization is experimenting with the idea of developing market-rate housing to subsidize concurrently planned affordable units, she said, but the organization is itself in a race with private developers to use vacant land held by the city.

“Lots have been taken by for-profit developers,” she said. “The amount of lots we were counting on are now less.”

Posted: September 5, 2020 – 7:16 PM

In fast developing corner of North Philly, vacant lots become priceless

September 28, 2020
In fast-developing corner of North Philly, vacant lots become priceless

JASON LAUGHLIN / STAFF

A little bit of Petronila Cruz died as the excavator bit into the land she cultivated for 31 years.

“I was trying to comfort myself because I knew that it wasn’t mine,” said Cruz, 79, describing the four months of depression caused by losing her garden, “but I dedicated so much time and love to it.”

Cruz never owned the six vacant lots next to her home in West Kensington, but for three decades, she treated them as her own, seeding them with tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and eggplants. She marveled at how tall her pea plants had grown over the years.

Petronila Cruz used to have a vast garden on six vacant lots surrounding her home in West Kensington. In 2019 the land was sold, and now a three-story apartment building stands there.
MONICA HERNDON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Petronila Cruz used to have a vast garden on six vacant lots surrounding her home in West Kensington. In 2019 the land was sold, and now a three-story apartment building stands there.

In 2019, though, the land was sold. The first step to constructing the three-story apartment building there now was to dig up Cruz’s garden.

Community activists and longtime residents are grappling with complicated legal processes and government bureaucracy to try to save beloved gardens like Cruz’s. At the same time, developers are racing to build on them before the city’s 10-year tax abatement for new construction changes at the end of the year.

Petronila Cruz shows off old photographs of her garden near her home in Philadelphia.
MONICA HERNDON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Petronila Cruz shows off old photographs of her garden near her home in Philadelphia.

“After all these years, we feel like we’ve been taken advantage of, and now, when this area is attractive to real estate developers,” Nilsa Caraballo said, “there is no respect for the minority groups who made this land worth a penny, and only the ones with big money can sit at the table to talk.”

Caraballo, 56, and her husband, Efraín, 71, cultivate a lot next to their home, at Seventh and Norris Streets, that is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Two decades ago, nothing was more emblematic of blight in West Kensington and Norris Square than the abundance of trash-strewn vacant lots, havens for drug use and prostitution. Claiming the lots as yards and gardens began as a way to create some security, recalled Patricia DeCarlo, a 30-year Norris Square resident.

“People who lived here and owned their property wanted to protect their property,” she said. “Since nobody owned it and it was a mess, they started fencing around.”

Gardening in vacant lots continues to be a way to beautify a community struggling with substance abuse, environmental health issues, and poverty. The median family income is about $23,000 a year.

At Mascher and Dauphin Streets, a corner lot has been transformed into one of the many unofficial parks and community gardens in the neighborhood. The land was nothing but damp dead space after the house there was demolished 30 years ago. Now Iris Rodríguez, 70, tends to it three hours a day. She buys a plant to add whenever she travels around the United States. Umbrella-like banana leaves stretch toward the street, while roses, lilies, and poppies bloom alongside a paved walkway and benches added over the last five years by community members.

The lots are owned by the Philadelphia Land Bank, City Public Property and Norris Square Neighborhood Project. Rodríguez said she renews a permit to use the land for public space and community gardening each year, but she fears that someday, the land will be taken away.

“I know that we have people in the city working for us to get our papers [for the lots],” Rodríguez said, but she doesn’t trust the Philadelphia Land Bank, which seeks to balance community and developer interests as it referees access to the city-held lots. “Land Bank is all about money now that the gringos want to keep our neighborhood.”

This part of Philadelphia is thick with city-owned lots, about 400 of them within half a mile of Norris Square. The nonprofit Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) has been developing affordable housing in the area for more than three decades, said Nilda Iris Ruiz, president and chief executive, and is itself in a race to grab vacant parcels before private developers can build market rate units. Vacant lots create the opportunity to build more of a mixed-income community, Ruiz said.

“History has shown when you have all low-income families, it’s just not a good mix,” said Ruiz, who agrees that an effort should be made to keep some lots undeveloped. “Getting people to self-sufficiency has been the whole target. How do we get people to get a job, increase their income, or reduce their expenses?”

Where 10 years ago APM was seen as a savior for the community, today its reputation is more mixed, with some area residents opposing a proposed mixed-income development on American Street that they fear will just increase gentrification.

Last year, the city issued eight times as many building permits as in 2015 in one census tract in the neighborhood. The median home price as of August was $140,000, according to the real estate site Zillow, almost double what it was in August 2010.

There’s value to keeping vacant properties undeveloped, too, said Ebony Griffin, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center. The lots can provide fresh fruits and vegetables, green space that can mitigate the heat islands caused by all the asphalt in cities, and play areas for the community.

Efraín Caraballo and his wife, Nilsa. “Now, when this area is attractive to real estate developers,” she said, “there is no respect for the minority groups who made this land worth a penny, and only the ones with big money can sit at the table to talk.”
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Efraín Caraballo and his wife, Nilsa. “Now, when this area is attractive to real estate developers,” she said, “there is no respect for the minority groups who made this land worth a penny, and only the ones with big money can sit at the table to talk.”

Giving locals a chance to add vacant land to their own properties cheaply, Griffin said, is also a remedy to the city’s history of racist zoning and property policy that prevented people of color from building wealth though land ownership.

“If in 50 years they need to sell,” she said, “that’s more generational wealth for that family.”

Last month, members of Philly Socialists, which founded César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden adjacent to Cruz’s home, organized a virtual meeting with Land Bank officials. Iglesias Garden’s organizers want to preserve portions of their garden held by the Land Bank, but recently began advocating for others in the neighborhood who hope to claim open land before a developer does.

At the end of the meeting, Land Bank executive director Angel Rodriguez agreed to put a hold on the sale of 17 parcels, eight in Iglesias Garden and nine others nearby, to give people a chance to apply to obtain these plots. They hope to have the applications reviewed at the Land Bank’s board meeting in October. Some have gone through this process before and have to do it again because the Land Bank changed its policies this year.

But Lauren Troop, who helped organize the meeting, said the conversation left her hopeful. “It feels like another circle,” she said, “but I think it was a win in a lot of ways.”

The Land Bank can approve an application for a person to buy a lot adjacent to their property for $1, with the understanding that the person can’t build on or sell the property for 30 years.

Other paths to keep vacant lands undeveloped can be even more convoluted. If a lot has been in use by the same family for 21 years or more, the courts can grant ownership through a legal principle called adverse possession, Griffin said. Proving occupancy for more than two decades can be a high bar to meet, though, requiring witnesses and photo evidence.

“Witnesses are either moved or dead, and they don’t have contact,” she said. “It’s really difficult.”

The group of residents and Iglesias Garden organizers are debating whether to pursue adverse possession claims on some properties, Troop said, or to go through the Land Bank application process. One of them, Lila Santos, hopes to gain ownership of a lot between two homes her family owns on Fifth Street. Her grandmother, who died in 2018, used to raise chickens there. After talking with the Land Bank, she remained confused.

“We honestly didn’t really get an answer,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do.”

Efraín and Nilsa Caraballo have been taking care of this small plot of land for 17 years. It is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
TYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Efraín and Nilsa Caraballo have been taking care of this small plot of land for 17 years. It is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

There’s more at stake here than the value of the vacant properties, said the residents, who feel an intangible connection to the land. The Caraballos, originally from Puerto Rico, describe gardening as “a way of living.”

Cruz has tried to see the positives of losing her garden. She has knee implants and a heart condition, and it probably wasn’t ideal for her to be exerting herself so much every day. But she also recalled that, at 79, she can still swing a machete to clear overgrowth, and she loved providing fresh produce and green space for her neighbors. A year after the excavator finished demolishing her garden, Cruz still feels its absence.

“Now, I don’t rush up at dawn to drink my coffee and get out into the garden,” she said. “I don’t have to do that or anything else, for that matter.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

El Inquirer

News about the Latino experience in the Philadelphia region. The latest features can be found at elinquirer.com

How To Help Students and Teachers Now

September 28, 2020

School looks very different this fall in Philadelphia. How can we get our kids through it?

It’s finally here.

After months of debating and guessing and stressing, the first day of school for the 200,000-plus students in Philadelphia arrives this week. Of course, it won’t look like the first day of school: There will be no sea of teens animating our SEPTA commutes with their gossip, no uniformed kids taking first-day-of-school pics on the front stoop with their giant backpacks and nervous smiles.

But this September and beyond, schools will need lots of support to make the most of this very strange year. We spoke to teachers, administrators, parents, and other leaders for tips on making the 2020-21 school year safe, joyful and successful.

“This is gonna take everyone working together,” says School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite. And he’s right.

How to help schools in Philadelphia in 2020

SCHEDULE YOUR CHILDREN’S FLU SHOTS

The world is bananas right now. With so much out of our control, protecting children (and those around them) from the flu is one thing you can reliably, safely do. The CDC recommends that everyone over age six months get vaccinated (with few exceptions). Call your child’s pediatrician or health care provider today (many medical practices already have their supply of vaccines) and find out how and where they recommend your child get vaccinated.

GET CONNECTED

By now you’ve heard about PHLConnectED, the citywide plan to get wifi to all students. But how to actually take advantage of it? Families of K-12 students without broadband internet access can reach out to United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline for information; you’ll be able to speak to a United Way representative, who’ll help determine if you’re eligible for the program, and get you going on next steps for getting the connection into your home. Already have broadband? Spread the word to others.

GET SUPPORT—IN YOUR LANGUAGE

Jenna Monley, executive director of the Office of Family and Community Engagement, wants to make sure families don’t feel alone in navigating the new school year. “We have a plethora of opportunities for families to be able to build their capacity and support their child with digital learning, Chromebooks and how best to communicate with their teachers,” she says. Support is available from District experts in English and the District’s top nine languages. Go here for details.

BE A VOLUNTEER READER

“We will be offering the program 100 percent virtually via Zoom [and] are absolutely looking for volunteers,” says Johniece R. Foster, Director of Philly Reading Coaches for the City of Philadelphia Office of Children and Families.

If you want to nurture literacy and an early love of reading among our City’s youngest students, check out details here. You can also donate to or volunteer with literacy programs like Reach Out and Read (ROAR) and Read by 4th.

MENTOR MIGHTY KIDS

Mighty Writers, the nonprofit that helps kids find and share their voices through writing, has expanded its community-support efforts during the pandemic, and welcomes volunteers in all kinds of roles. You can apply to be an online 1:1 writing mentor; help at MW’s food distribution sites once a week; read and respond to student contest entries; gather, organize or personally create Mighty Fun Packs for back to school and more. Get in touch here.

REGISTER FOR CHILDCARE AND ACCESS CENTERS

The City announced that, starting on September 8, it will provide a number of supervised, Wi-Fi-enabled access centers where working parents without childcare can bring their K-6 students. Taking advantage of the sites requires pre-registration and spots will be limited, so call 215-709-5366 to register as soon as possible. And Philadelphia Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) can help you find a childcare program and apply for a subsidy. Visit philadelphiaelrc18.org or call 1-888-461-KIDS (1-889-461-5437).

NURTURE SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING

“This is even more important now, with the added stress families have been under,” says Kelsey Ruane at William Penn Foundation. For families of young children, she recommends Conquering Kindergarten, a resource created by the Penn Child Research Center at Penn’s Graduate School of Education with the School District of Philadelphia to help support kindergarteners and their families with the transition to school.

For mental health support, the School District has its HopeLine for students and families, and the City’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) has the #mindPHL website with resources for all residents.

DONATE

Covid-19 and the protests over systemic racism in our country and the related economic fallout have created new pressures on the School District’s budget and new demands for District services,” says Donna Frisby-Greenwood, president and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia.

She encourages the community to go online to the Philly FUNDamentals platform, where individual schools post the things they need most. “Philly FUNDamentals gives you a chance to give directly to a school and know how your contributions will be used.

Additionally, you can support an academic recovery plan that will pilot learning pods in low-income communities for those K-5 students that are unable to stay at home during the day and/or need additional academic support.”

BECOME AN ADVOCATE

There are countless nonprofits, civic groups and community coalitions rallying for our children’s education. Make this the year you join your school’s parent group, attend an online school board meeting, or throw your support behind endeavors like Center for Black Educator DevelopmentPA Schools WorkPre-K for PAStart Strong PAChildhood Begins at Home, Philadelphia School Partnership, or any other number of causes that are dear to your family.

GET OUT THE YOUTH VOTE

We at The Citizen love voting the way some other staffs love puppies or rainbows or office ping pong. It’s our jam. We cheerlead endlessly for VoteThatJawn and Philly Youth Vote!, two of the many initiatives focused on getting first-time voters to register.

Looking for your own ways to help get out the vote this fall? If your child will be 18 on Election Day, encourage him or her to work at the polls. “Believe it or not, there’s no School District policy for voter registration and most students are never given the opportunity to register in school. This is one reason why youth voter turnout is so low, so we need to ask and guide them through the process, including voting by mail, and finding their polling places,” says Central High School teacher and super-voting-advocate Thomas Quinn.

Quinn’s once again asking candidates to join virtual social studies classes in the School District, to be interviewed by students. “These interviews will be simulcast by the School District and the Committee of Seventy. Youth need to know who’s on the ballot and what they stand for, and candidates need to hear the concerns of youth.”

P.S., says Quinn: Tell students to enter the @VoteThatJawn #DanceThatJawn TikTok challenge.

BE EMPATHETIC

Maureen Boland, a ninth grade English teacher at Parkway Center City Middle College, shared this wise insight, which needs no editing on our part:

“Our students will need for us to recognize that not only are they coming to us after a summer of enduring a pandemic, they are also enduring an ever-worsening epidemic of gun violence. We also need to recognize that our students are coming of age in one of the most turbulent and unpredictable times in American history and that they are different than students who have come before them. They are very sophisticated. They are very expressive, and they learn very quickly.

We need to acknowledge and respond to those differences in our teaching. Teachers in Philly are generally very flexible by nature. You have to be to work with so many needs, and so few resources. We are going to need to stretch even more than we were already stretching. But the good news is [that] our students are also incredibly quick to adapt. We will serve them most effectively if we see that in them.”

CREATE (REALISTIC) EXPECTATIONS

Margarita Hernández, senior director of early childhood programs for Asociación de Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), echoes Boland’s emphasis on empathy. “Philadelphia families are facing new challenges as the pandemic forces so many students to begin the school year remotely. We know it seems daunting,” she says.

The early learning team at APM put together these tips:

  1. Create a workspace area for your child to learn from home with minimum distraction
  2. Set routines, including a regular time to go to bed, wake up and eat breakfast
  3. Set expectations, and continually talk to your children about their responsibilities at home
  4. Look for support if you need it—parents are struggling, and deserve help too.
  5. Above all, be flexible.

“We are living a moment [in which] changes are happening at every hour,” Hernandez emphasizes. “Always remember that if something does not work today, there is a new day tomorrow.”

Support APM’s work here.

Header photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

75% of young adults report anxiety or depression, and suicide thoughts rise as coronavirus pandemic wears on, CDC reports

August 19, 2020
75% of young adults report anxiety or depression, and suicide thoughts rise as coronavirus pandemic wears on, CDC reports

As the coronavirus pandemic wears on with no end in sight, Tony Salvatore keeps hearing from more and more young adults in crisis.

They call the Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Team hotline about having their work hours cut, losing their jobs, and not being able to find work as more businesses close. They call with their worries about not being able to graduate on time. They call because their colleges can’t tell them what they need to know about maintaining scholarships or returning to classes.

“Young adults are totally overwhelmed by everything,” said Salvatore, the chairperson of the team. “They’re not so much concerned about getting COVID-19 as they are about the effect that it has had on their lives and the lives of people around them.”

The increase in calls he has noticed over the last two months reflects how mental health among Americans has continued to deteriorate, especially among young adults, as well as in Black and Latino people of all ages.

A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week found that among 5,400 respondents, nearly 41% reported at least one mental or behavioral health condition, such as symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, or increased use of substances to cope. Anxiety symptoms reported between June 24 and 30 were three times as prevalent as the second quarter of 2019, and depression was four times as high. Young adults in particular were affected — nearly 75% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 reported experiencing at least one behavioral or mental health symptom.

A quarter of young adults reported that they had thought about suicide in June, compared with nearly 11% of respondents overall reporting they were seriously considering suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey, doubling pre-COVID-19 rates. Black and Latino people, caregivers, and essential workers were particularly vulnerable to such thoughts.

Hector Colón-Rivera, medical director of the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha Inc. (APM) Behavioral Health Program, said mental health is worsening in Latino populations because of a lack of resources. He said Spanish-speaking communities often receive information later than English-speaking ones.

“That causes people to be anxious,” said Colón-Rivera, whose nonprofit organization is dedicated to behavior and substance use disorder services in the Hispanic communities of the Philadelphia region. “It’s already hard for this community to be apart, coping with the fear of being infected. Not having information, or access to Spanish-speaking doctors over telehealth, increases someone’s chance of becoming depressed.”

Lily Brown, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, said it was not surprising that social isolation is affecting the mental health of young people.
COURTESY OF LILY BROWN

Lily Brown, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, said it was not surprising that social isolation is affecting the mental health of young people.

Lily Brown, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, said it was not surprising that social isolation is affecting the mental health of young people.

“Forging and maintaining social connections is extremely important to a sense of independence in late adolescence to early adulthood,” Brown said. “A lot of folks in this age range are facing fears about what their future is going to look like. People feel like this time is ticking by, which has led to a tremendous amount of uncertainty, which really breeds anxiety.”

Plus, not having a firm work, academic, and social schedule can be a big predictor of depression, Brown said. Adolescence and young adulthood is when people learn how to effectively manage emotions and stressors, and having to learn how to do so in a less-than-ideal environment is extremely difficult.

Many people have a mental image of what they’re supposed to be doing, which they compare to what they’re actually doing. When those two images are off, there can be an effect on mental health, she said.

“Reality is totally different from the mental images people had just six months ago,” Brown said. “There’s really no end in sight for many of us. Young people are wondering, ‘How long is this going to go on for? When can we really start to live our adult lives?’ And no one has a compelling answer.”

Brown said that if parents or caregivers notice that a young person is struggling, they should encourage them to consider teletherapy sooner rather than later. Changes in behavior can be a sign that someone needs professional help, she said.

“One of the biggest predictors that someone’s mental health is starting to take a hit is a lack of future planning,” Brown said. “We want to see young people thinking about their future, even if some of the pieces of the puzzle are missing right now. When youth start to think hopelessly about the future, that’s when risk elevates.”

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