Last week a desperate family about to be evicted left a voicemail message for John Cooper, pastoral associate/business manager of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, asking for help. When he returned the call later that day, “the woman I spoke with was crying and said through her tears, ‘We just got put out on the street.’ I could hear the sound of cars whizzing by as she said, ‘What can we do now?’” …
Social service providers from Davenport to Ottumwa and beyond expect calls like the one Cooper received to escalate as more individuals and families fall behind in paying their rent in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The waves are forming because of eviction moratoriums ending in Iowa (May 27) and at the federal level (July 31), the cessation of the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits (July 31), high unemployment (8 percent in June in Iowa) and economic uncertainty.
The Salvation Army Quad Cities assisted 338 people with one-time rental assistance between March 15 and July 16, 2020, an increase of 189 people for the same period last year, said Kelle Larned, program director. The agency provided emergency shelter in motel rooms for 341 people between March 15 and July 16, 2020, an increase of 97 people over the same period last year. “The number would be higher if we had more money,” Larned said. “My guess would be close to 500.” She said it is difficult to turn people away. “We have nowhere to send them.”
Humility Homes & Services Inc. (HHSI) in Davenport is also experiencing an increase in people seeking emergency shelter and for longer stays. Physical distancing as a pandemic safety measure limits the number of participants who can stay at the shelter (from 70 per night to 40).
Between March 18 and July 17, HHSI served 282 unique individuals with emergency shelter. This compares to 254 unique individuals — an 11 percent increase over the same period in 2019. In 2020, 11,652 shelter nights were provided, or a 77% increase over the same period last year. “Participants have not had many places to go — landlords are not taking new tenants without income given the mass levels of unemployment. The eviction moratoriums (for people living in federally connected properties under the federal CARES Act) are set to lift at the end of July and this will cause what many are calling a tsunami of evictions,” said HHSI Executive Director Ashley Velez.
In Ottumwa, Mary Margaret Butler of Whatsoever You Do Inc. (WYD INC.) receives calls seeking help for women and women with children without a place to spend the night. Her organization is renovating a former church building in Ottumwa for use as an emergency shelter — the only one in the region (besides a domestic violence shelter). It won’t be ready to open until early next year.
One-quarter of all renters paid one-half of their income on housing before the pandemic, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said during a July 16 webinar on America’s housing crisis organized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Many were one emergency away from homelessness. Now, millions of people are seeing those emergencies all at once, Brown said. “Families find themselves on the streets with their lives turned upside down.”
The Lord has ears for the cry of the poor, we read in Psalm 34. As the Lord’s hands, feet and heart here on earth, we must respond to those cries by insisting that Congress pass legislation now to address housing instability and to prevent homelessness.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) recommends support for the “Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020” (H.R. 7301) and the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act” to prevent evictions and homelessness and promote housing stability among people with the greatest needs during and after this crisis. Find the action alert at NLIHC.org. Read it and then take one or more of the following steps:
• Contact members of Congress (congress.gov) and insist that they approve the HEROES Act and H.R. 7301 to provide $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grant funding. Sacrifices will need to be made down the road to pay for these expenditures, and we should make them.
• If you or someone you know may be facing a housing crisis, reach out before the eviction notice arrives. Visit the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) website at https://tinyurl.com/yxlf696n for assistance. Funding from the federal CARES Act provides short-term relief to income-eligible renters and homeowners who are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. Also, visit HUD.gov.
• Donate household supplies to organizations serving people in need, such as Humility Homes & Services. Call ahead or visit the website first: humilityhomes.org or (563) 326-1330.
• If you are a landlord, reach out to agencies that work with rapid rehousing and homeless prevention, such as HHSI at humilityhomes.org and The Salvation Army Quad Cities at https://tinyurl.com/y4tckwon.
“On the Day of Judgment we will not be judged for our ideas, but for the compassion we have shown to others,” Pope Francis said in a Tweet posted July 14 @Pontifex. A tsunami is coming; let’s make sure it is a tsunami of compassion.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
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