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Housing for the Harvest program for coronavirus-positive ag workers seeing few participants

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 01:10:14-05

A state initiative that provides help for agricultural workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County continues to see low participation.

As numbers continue to rise, local organizations have been coming together to reach as many farmworkers as possible.

Housing for the Harvest is a program that provides agricultural workers in Santa Barbara County who have tested positive for COVID-19 a place to quarantine, recover and avoid the ongoing spread of the virus.

According to program supervisor Lisa Valencia Sherratt, since the program began in September, only 13 residents in Santa Barbara County have quarantined in the available hotel rooms.

"It was expected that we would be having, you know, just large numbers of ag workers coming in but then we realized that we have to become a trusted partner and we are a brand new program,” Sherratt said.

She said they realized many of the workers avoided reaching out due to a lack of trust.

According to Sherratt, participants are not asked about immigration status, which was one of the biggest concerns.

In order to qualify, people must be working in agriculture, test positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed and are unable to self-isolate at home.

"We want to make people feel like they are at home in a hotel and that we are their family relatives and taking care of them,” Sherratt said.

In order to reach that level of trust, they partnered with many well-known organizations to continue outreach efforts like CAUSE, MICOP, and Lideres Campesinas.

"We have been going to the agricultural fields and really just passing along information and using all of our contacts to really motivate workers to take advantage of this resource,” said Rosalba Garcia, a member of Lideres Campesinas Central Coast.

Lideres Campesinas is a statewide organization for female farmworkers. They advocate for proper protection along with many other efforts to educate the farm working community.

Housing for the Harvest is set to continue until June of 2021.

"This program has been created for them, for the most vulnerable population and really giving them thanks for working hard in the fields so why not take advantage of this?" Garcia said.

San Luis Obispo County also offers Housing for the Harvest but says no one there has used it.