One of my projects this summer as a Public Research Intern in Beyond the Lab has been to research services available for Grays Ferry residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The services that are and are not present in the Grays Ferry neighborhood highlight the striking disparities present within the city of Philadelphia; they indicate socioeconomic inequality and conditions that are not conducive to the health of residents or the community as a whole.
The services available in Grays Ferry seem to be present to support the immediate needs of low-income area residents, but they do not offer long-term solutions. For example, the city of Philadelphia lists eleven free food distribution sites in Grays Ferry. While free food is an absolutely necessary measure for filling residents’ immediate nutritional needs, it is a Band-Aid for the larger social and structural inequities that create such needs. In an ideal world, all communities should have access to affordable and nutritious foods in grocery stores, not just food pantries. The Grays Ferry community does have supermarkets, but if there are eleven free food distribution sites in a relatively small neighborhood, the supermarkets must be unaffordable to a significant number of neighborhood residents during both “normal” times and crises. The pandemic certainly exacerbates issues of income inequality, but it did not create them.
The healthcare services that are not available in Grays Ferry are equally telling. Urgent care clinics are a case in point. The neighborhood has no urgent care clinics- in fact, they cluster around it almost in a circle:
Urgent care clinics could be helpful to the Grays Ferry community, but it is apparently financially unfeasible or impractical for these clinics to be established and maintained there, as the areas in which they are located are all more affluent. Interestingly, the areas in which there are urgent care clinics are already served by the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and Jefferson University medical systems, but in this less affluent neighborhood, both urgent care and hospital care—or healthcare in general—is much harder to come by. Despite these hospital systems’ expansion to multiple locations, Grays Ferry remains underserved.
In the words of journalist and anti-poverty activist Dorothy Day, “There was plenty of charity but too little justice.” It is good that Grays Ferry residents can access some free services during the pandemic and in “normal” times, but at the same time, the community deserves justice in the form of equal social and economic opportunity.