Rent and mortgage help remains heavily valued as the United Way of Brazoria County is still receiving about four times the number of calls it received before the pandemic.
An increase in people needing rent assistance spiked soon after stimulus aid had been spent, River of Hope Executive Director Nanette Freelon said.
“They’ve already used that toward whatever bills they have had from prior months,” Freelon said. “And some people are not receiving unemployment because so many people are applying and they’re not getting their unemployment fast enough.”
United Way of Brazoria County is receiving about 50 to 60 phone calls a day, compared to 10 to 15 before the pandemic, Community Outreach Director Gloria Luna said.
“The phones are ringing off the wall and we have all staff answering the phones all day,” Luna said. “There are still many people looking for rental assistance, with some looking for April and some for May and some coming out of June, as we can backdate it as far as April.”
So many people remain out of work, she said, with many starting to feel the brunt of missed payments.
“What we’re starting to see is that apartments are starting to have late fees,” Luna said. “So not only are they not going back to work, but they are also having to manage late fees.”
Luna recently encountered a person about to go to eviction court due to lack of income from COVID-19, she said.
Anyone who lost hours or employment because of COVID-19 needs to go through an application process.
“We are helping with rent, mortgage and utility bills,” Luna said. “But they have to meet the criteria in order to get assistance.”
Criteria to qualify for assistance remains about the same as before the pandemic, she said. That includes proof of income loss, a copy of their lease and unemployment claim status.
River of Hope is applying for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program through United Way, Freelon said. The program will allow the nonprofit to offer rent and mortgage assistance for up to a month.
“With this funding, we’ll be able to help more people with a larger amount,” Freelon said. “Our normal help is a maximum of $250, just to help people get through a little bump in their road.”
Before the crisis, people needing help would more likely get a check the next week to get caught up, Freelon said, but now that check isn’t coming.
Since River of Hope cannot cover entire rent payments, they collaborate with other organizations, Freelon said.
“To make things worse, rent has gone up; it’s sky-high now, so if we try and help however we can by partnering with other area agencies to fill the gap, we can help everyone who needs it,” she said. “We work with St. Vincent de Paul’s, Salvation Army, True to Life Ministries, United Way of Brazoria County and more in the area in order to work out whatever our applicants need.”
United Way case managers like Nichole Poney stay busy all day long, she said.
“We really are blessed and fortunate that we have these funds that we have been able to put back into the community in order to allow them to reach out for help,” Poney said. “It’s impacted our county for the better and we’re just really blessed that we can try to help in some small way, even if it’s just for a month or something just to give a little bit of relief in order to be OK for the time being.”
United Way is working with multiple entities to assist people, Luna said.
“At this point, we still have funding, but whatever happens, we have to function on a first-come-first-serve basis,” Luna said.
Corporate and private donations have benefited United Way, as has some federal funding, Luna said.
“We have a fund that we are able to use for some of those who can’t complete our vetting process, and then we have separate funding from the county welfare department, which can be put toward those who qualify,” Luna said.
People who don’t qualify for the federally funded assistance can still receive help, but must provide proof of needing it.
“One lady called, for example, and she couldn’t find her Social Security card,” Luna said. “Well, the HUD required that she files with her Social Security, but she really needed help, so we were still able to help her through separate funding. It’s on a case-by-case basis.”
Freelon believes morale remains high among struggling Brazosport residents, she said.
“Talking to people, though they’re needing help right now, they haven’t really been in panic mode, because they know that they are going to be OK,” she said. “As far as I know, the water departments aren’t cutting off anybody’s water, and then you have our organization.”
Anyone needing information on United Way assistance can call 211 or 979-849-9402, or visit uwbc.org.