Photo by Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash

Our team is fielding up to 70 calls a day from families desperately seeking rent assistance. Prior to the pandemic, we received calls like this from about 80 families in a year

Rebecca Leininger, Vice President of Embrace Families Solutions

Recently, a single mom – let’s call her “Rachel” – reached out, seeking urgent rent assistance. She never thought she would have to do that … until the coronavirus hit.

Rachel had a stable job at the start of the pandemic. Unlike many Floridians, she was able to work remotely when offices closed. But Rachel also had a toddler at home, and she didn’t have anyone to help with childcare when she was on business calls. When her boss decided that the background noise was too disruptive, Rachel was let go.

With no paycheck coming in, and struggling to cover rent, Rachel sought help at Pathways for Home, a homelessness relief and prevention nonprofit serving families with children.

Rachel’s story is not unique. Across America, 11.8 million children live in households that missed a mortgage or rent payment or sought a deferment since the pandemic began. At Pathways to Home, our team is fielding up to 70 calls a day from families desperately seeking rent assistance. Prior to the pandemic, we received calls like this from about 80 families in a year.

Parents with kids at home are more likely to have entry-level jobs and less likely to be in salaried positions that were able to move to remote work. That’s doubly true in Florida, where tourism and hospitality support one out of every seven jobs. These parents are not just grappling with, “Am I okay? Is my job okay?” They’re also worrying about “How can I keep my kids healthy? Who will care for them while I’m at work? Can I afford childcare when I’m behind on rent? Is childcare safe?”

Early on in the pandemic, Governor DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. That was a lifeline: It kept children safe in their homes. It made decisions – between rent and groceries, rent and the power bill, rent and medication – more bearable. But a moratorium is, at best, a stopgap.

On September 1, that moratorium is due to expire. By then, many families will be three, four, or even five months behind on rent. Even in the best-case scenario – if they land a job, an ideal childcare solution, and enough pay to put food on the table and gas in the car – it will be a long time before they can backpay their rent. When that happens, there’s a real risk that we’ll see a surge in evictions and homelessness for families with children.

Here’s what’s being done to help:

Housing. Local administrators are already prepared to roll out eviction prevention and diversion programs to soften the blow. Orange County will begin accepting relief applications on Tuesday, August 25 – and will also partner with local agencies like Pathways to Home to provide aid to families with children. Seminole County’s program will open the next day, on August 26. If your family is going to be impacted when the moratorium ends, be sure to check your county website for information.

Groceries. Thanks to the dedicated work of volunteers and local nonprofits, mobile pantries and drive-through food drops are widely available throughout Central Florida. You can check the FoodFinder tool on the Second Harvest website for up-to-date directions to your nearest food pantry.

Support. During a time like this, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or helpless, or even lose faith in your own abilities as a parent. Florida Blue has a free emotional support helpline that’s available to any Florida resident, operating 24 hours a day in English and Spanish. You can also visit https://embracefamilies.org/newsroom  for an array of self-care tips and parenting resources to support families through the pandemic.

There’s still time to make a difference:

Donate. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, we’ve heard and seen how important it is to support local charities and aid organizations. If you can donate or volunteer, now is absolutely the time. To donate and support the Pathways to Home program, click this link: http://www.pathwaystohome.org/donate/. To donate to help Embrace Families, the direct link is: https://embracefamilies.org/donate.

But if – like many – you aren’t in a position to do that, there’s still a way you can help: Fill out the Census.

Census. While it may not seem urgent in the face of a pandemic, there’s a reason everyone in America is required to respond to the Census. The data collected today will influence public health research, fair political representation, and funding for nonprofit and aid programs for years to come – just as the 2010 Census influenced how much funding was allocated for COVID-19 relief through the CARES Act. If you haven’t done so yet, you can fill out the Census in minutes – and learn more about why it matters – at  www.2020Census.gov.

Rebecca Leininger is the vice president of operations for Embrace Families Solutions, an affiliated agency of Embrace Families, Inc. and a leading Central Florida nonprofit committed to advancing programs that complement the child welfare system and fill critical gaps in the community-wide system of care for vulnerable populations.

 

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