COVID-19 has changed life for everyone, but communities of color have been most severely affected. In Los Angeles, even amid the strict lockdowns of the early days of the pandemic, many Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) workers in South Los Angeles had no choice but to continue commuting in to work, putting their bodies on the line in order to afford the necessities of life here.
In the fall of 2020, our partners at South Central LAMP surveyed 36 mothers of Latinx descent as well as indigenous mothers from Mexico and Central America on how COVID-19 is affecting their transportation needs.
South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project (SC LAMP) serves low-income families in South Los Angeles. All the families in SC LAMP’s core Family Literacy Program, which targets women and their children ages 0-5, are living below the poverty line, and nearly 100% are immigrant, Latinx, and Spanish- speaking. This is a community disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on all levels – health, employment, mental health, access to basic necessities, and education, including decreased opportunity for a high-quality early education due to fewer spots in local preschools.
The community at SC LAMP sees firsthand how this virus affects their families. As much as the community that SC LAMP serves would like to stay home, they do not have a safety net that allows them to. Many of the families SC LAMP works with often do not have access to public benefits, live in dense households, and often need to use shared spaces like laundromats (which increases likelihood to exposure) or go to grocery stores. Often families either do not own cars or own only one, which is used by the employed family member. Leaving the rest of the family to have to take public transportation. While telehealth has become a way to keep people at home, at times as a pregnant woman you would need to go in for an onsite visit and if you are transit dependent the opportunity for exposure increases.
It can be established from bus ridership data that many of the bus lines of South LA remained generally crowded even as lines in other parts of the county were emptying out. But that data can obscure the real human needs, fears, and wants that are represented in each transit trip. SC LAMP’s survey process demonstrated a path forward for community outreach and preserving space for community members frequently omitted from transportation policy discussions to come together. The moms who participated provided invaluable input and showed again how meaningful ongoing, deep surveys about riders’ lives can be.
SC LAMP staff shared that this type of survey has become more difficult to conduct during the pandemic. Group or classroom settings that were previously used for these sessions to stimulate discussions are no longer available. In spite of the challenges, thanks to amazing collaboration from the moms, these mobility surveys were a tremendous success.
SC LAMP staff did each survey one-on one, and scheduling and explaining the purpose of the call was the initial process of this project that took 15-20 minutes. With the second contact, staff called the moms to conduct the survey, taking approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Sometimes, these calls were friendly, or sad talks with a tone of loneliness, or other participants were focused and direct with their responses. South Central LAMP staff shared that surveying their community during this time was not easy, as many members – including the staff lead asking the questions – are struggling with the balance of talking about transportation needs during an on-going crisis where many families are struggling to meet core household needs. South Central LAMP staff shared with us: “At the end of the day, I was vocally tired and emotionally touched, but in the end, it was worth it and rewarding.” Staff read the questions with respective options to answer, and sometimes walked through with the mother how their usual routine contrasted with their “new routine” so they were able to process and respond with confidence to their struggles with transportation during these difficult times. Staff heard the desire of the moms to participate in this survey because this was an opportunity to share their concerns. These interviews gave the mothers an opportunity to speak with someone about their frustrations and new challenges with transportation that COVID-19 brought into their lives. Often agencies are quick to say “let’s survey the community!” This response however glosses over the fact that surveys often require high levels of community trust, time and existing relationships. We are grateful to the community at South Central LAMP and all the moms who answered the calls given that the mothers were often busy with their children, cooking or washing the dishes when staff called them, but they made time for me to hear what to hear more about Moms and Mobility Campaign and participate in the survey.
FINDINGS: 61% of mothers surveyed wanted more frequent service and shorter wait times for the bus. Bus service hours and bus frequency has decreased for FY21, an important priority for the upcoming fiscal year is to increase bus service to help mothers of color get around more easily. Link to full survey here.
Most of the mothers surveyed made less than $25,000 a year. The survey found that 47% of mothers did not drive and that 67% of mothers were not looking to buy or save for a new car. Some of the comments received included mothers who were nervous to drive or chose not to drive because they did not have legal documentation, and there were also comments about having no savings to buy a car. 81% mothers also said they knew other mothers who did not know how to drive, with one personal anecdote being one mother waits for her husband since he is the only person at home who knows how to drive.
Most mothers who took the survey drive when going to a medical appointment or when making a recreational trip (both 67%). This high percentage shows that for essential and leisurely trips, mothers often have no choice but to drive. Those who did not drive to their medical appointments said that they were able to get a ride, or have transportation provided to them by the clinic.
Mothers also responded to what improvements in transportation and the built environment would benefit them. Out of the 36 respondents, 64% would like to see more street lighting, 56% would like to see improvements that would reduce dangerous driving and speeding cars, 81% would like to see cleaner streets, and 64% would like to see homeless encampments and car camping reduced, citing concerns of safe housing and lack of safe places to park for people who live in their cars. Walkability in their neighborhoods is a big concern for these mothers, and simple improvements could really improve access around the neighborhood.
The survey also revealed that an overwhelming majority of mothers were interested in a car sharing program. This would greatly benefit mothers who need to get to places that are not feasible on a bus, or by walking or riding a bike, while simultaneously cutting the burden of maintaining and paying insurance for a private automobile. See our report with SC LAMP from a listening session in 2019: Moms on scooters, buses, rideshare and more – South Central LAMP weighs in on Rideshare & Micromobility.
We thank South Central LAMP for the amazing work that they do, and are grateful for their partnership in our Moms and Mobility Campaign.
BACKGROUND: South Central LAMP is a nonprofit founded by Catholic Sisters after the 1992 uprisings determined to rebuild neighborhoods in South LA and provide systems of care for lower-income women.
Recognizing the impact of the pandemic on the educational development of the families they work with, South Central LAMP launched a hybrid program that includes on-site and distance learning early childhood education (ECE) classes for children, and 100% distance learning parenting and ESL classes for parents during COVID-19. Children receive 3 hours of in-person instruction and 4 hours of live virtual instruction each week; mothers virtually attend each class for one hour per week. They divided their parenting classes into three groups, so mothers can engage in smaller groups tailored to their needs. SC LAMP currently has 62 children enrolled in ECE classes and 21 parents in adult classes.
Classes are complemented by instructional packets that families pick up along with all the supplies they will need for learning, experimentation, and creation at home. Families are provided with additional support through virtual office hours, regular teacher check-ins, and advocacy services, including Zoom home visits during which families have a chance to speak one-on-one with SC LAMP’s Family Advocate, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. These visits primarily involve a discussion of personal goals, the provision of mental health support, and linkage to local resources.
As a trusted ally, supporter, and advocate, families look to SC LAMP staff for support in navigating this difficult time. Staff have been working with local community partners, neighborhood groups, and government officials – including Councilmember Price and Mayor Garcetti – to learn what resources are available, so this can be shared with families and the broader community. Some of these resources have included funds for undocumented immigrants, food giveaways, and information on such topics as eviction protections, worker rights, protecting themselves and others from Coronavirus, and navigating the Safer at Home orders.
As food is a dire need in their community, and SC LAMP expanded the weekly community food distribution they conduct on their campus. Since May, SC LAMP has added 170 households to the distribution. They now provide a total of 260 unduplicated households, encompassing over 1,000 individuals, with a pre-packed box of meat, dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables twice each month. SC LAMP continues to work with their partner, St. Francis Center, to add more households. Children in the Early Childhood Education classes also receive boxed meals each week (breakfast and lunch for 5 days/week, 10 meals total).
While meeting these needs is their priority, SC LAMP is also striving to maintain a sense of some kind of normality for the families and children they work with. They are continuing community workshops virtually, including regular yoga workshops on Zoom and a workshop series presented by the Los Angeles Public Library. With safety precautions in place, they are also conducting on-site health screenings/services – in partnership with local health agencies, and annual events for children, including the Harvest Festival book distribution and holiday toy giveaway. In addition to mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the community, it is the staff’s intention to bring hope and calmness to the families they serve during this challenging time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the access deficit that many mothers in South LA face. Even before the pandemic, mobility options for lower-income mothers were limited in South LA. Investing in Place and South Central LAMP documented a typical trip that Maura and her two children made to Chuck-e-Cheese. Maura’s trip typically takes 1.5 hours on two buses to get to Chuck-e-Cheese with her family. Women typically make more trips a day running errands and caring for children and are more likely to use public transportation than men, so trip times on an unreliable and slow transit network add up. In 2019, mothers also mentioned that they were not able to take their kids to a school social event because there was no bus access to Griffith Park, as well as missing doctors appointments because the bus passed them up.
Our Moms and Mobility Campaign: This year Investing in Place is working together with the East Side Riders Bike Club, Los Angeles Walks and South Central LAMP in a funded partnership to combine new data and new voices from women to impact policy and investments for the City’s transportation network.