The need is so great I do not know where to start.
Individuals and families are staying home, some more isolated than others. Some businesses have closed, never to reopen. Some businesses have stayed open but see fewer customers. Restaurants have been allowed to reopen with smaller capacity.
The result is so many have lost their jobs and their livelihoods, whether they worked for others or were self-employed.
The Vashon Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH) knew many Vashon residents would have a hard time paying their rent. We immediately went to work to set up a fund specifically to help our neighbors who were no longer receiving an income. With so many of our community living paycheck to paycheck, creating the Virus Rent Fund was an obvious way to help. Only people who have lost their jobs during this pandemic qualify for this fund and only money specifically earmarked as “virus rent” is used to pay these rents. This allows the IFCH general operating monies to continue supporting our mission of preventing homelessness on Vashon. The word “Prevent” is overlooked far too often, but that is what we diligently and persistently do — keep people in their homes or at least try the best we can.
IFCH has been a social service nonprofit since 2004. Our mission is to identify and respond to the needs of those who either are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless. Our main goal is to keep people housed in a warm dry environment. Approximately 50 percent of our grants go to pay rent and utilities. All payments are sent directly to the homeowner or PSE. IFCH tries to provide temporary lodging for tenants in-between rentals or to house the homeless during the very cold times of the year, or after a hospital stay or major illness.
To spread the word about this new program, we have reached out to Vashon Youth and Family Services (VYFS), Comunidad Latina Vashon and the school counselors, asking them to let their clients know that money would be available to pay part of their rent. Information about the Virus Rent Fund and requests for support are continually circulated throughout the community.
Each month tenants complete a new form requesting rent assistance. Questions are asked about current income. No family receives more than $1,000 each month and very few have their entire rent paid by IFCH. Rent checks get sent directly to each homeowner. Speaking with homeowners each month, I hear them express their gratitude for this program. They tell me their tenants are long term renters and they care about them. Many homeowners are using the rent money to pay the mortgages on these homes. Others are retired and living on this income. The Vashon Virus Rent Fund money is circulating on Vashon. Donations come in, rent is paid. Tenants get to stay in their homes and homeowners get their income. It is a win-win.
Right now most residents receiving financial assistance are not getting any unemployment for various reasons. Since Congress did not continue the additional $600 unemployment benefit, the need for rental assistance in September will skyrocket. This is what keeps me up at night. Imagine how it may feel to the families and individuals who are seeing their income decrease by $2,400 a month. Talk about scary.
With the schools being remote, more pressure is being put on parents. They are not going to be able to go to work with young children at home.
On March 15, we sent out our first ask for donations and within two weeks, we had received $29,000, allowing us to pay over $22,000 for April rent assistance. By the end of July, the Virus Rent Fund had received a total of $122,000 in donations and paid out $113,000 in rent assistance during the five months of April through August. We have been helping an average of 30 families each month.
IFCH has no paid staff. We are all volunteers, so 100 percent of donations received go to direct services.
The Vashon community is a generous community. You have always shown up to support food, education and housing. IFCH is grateful for your support and we are asking you to keep giving during this critical time for our neighbors and friends. Be it your first time donating or your umpteenth time, thank you!
You can make a donation online at ifchvashon.org/donate-2, or mail a check payable to IFCH, P.O. Box 330, Vashon, WA 98070. Please write “Virus Rent” on the memo line of your check or add special instructions for PayPal online.
Hilary Emmer is a longtime community activist. She is the program coordinator for IFCH’s Virus Rent Fund.