“The fear of the unknown is great,” says VEAP’s Social Services Director, Tara Little, of the pandemic, “100% of those calling VEAP with a housing concern have been financially impacted by the virus and the subsequent closures and reduction in hours for businesses.” Many of the individuals seeking help are single parents with children, adults earning low incomes and undocumented families.
By early April, over 355,000 Minnesotans had applied for unemployment benefits and most of these individuals are workers in the service and retail sector, the primary occupation of VEAP’s visitors. “Many existing participants with whom we were working before the pandemic had resolvable situations. But now they’re unresolvable because the job they were starting or going back to simply isn’t there anymore or isn’t offering the same hours they were anticipating,” says Tara.
VEAP is mobilizing to ensure those needing housing guidance and support can access resources. We have modified our intake process so tenants immediately know about the ordinance placing a hold on evictions and what that means for rent owed in the future. Our team is additionally in communication with landlords to let them know we are here to help facilitate conversations with tenants for payment plans during the eviction moratorium. For laid-off, local workers who need support in applying for unemployment, we’re walking them step-by-step on how to access benefits and mailing paperwork to those who don’t have internet access.
One of VEAP’s core values is compassion and much of our effort currently has been in comforting individuals who reach out and assisting them in maneuvering multifaceted systems that are now even more complex due to closures. “For the world that is not super digitally connected, it isn’t easy,” elaborates Tara. “Even for those who are digitally savvy, there are glitches and hold-ups simply due to volume of need.”
While we are heartened the eviction freeze bill offers temporary relief, renters still know they will be liable in the near future for back payments. And although VEAP applauds the federal stimulus check provision for Americans, it is frankly not enough for most families to make ends meet. “Our priority now is helping households who are facing a safety crisis,” says Tara, “we’re preparing for when the eviction moratorium is lifted because that is when we will see an influx in need and imminent homelessness.”
Last year, VEAP helped 300 families stay in their home and avoid eviction with our housing grant program. But that won’t be nearly enough to handle the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. Increased emergency funding to our participants will help families keep up on rent, put food on their table and connect with additional resources during these times of increased financial instability. We’ll be working in overdrive to make sure that happens.