Keeping Families Housed with COVID Rent Relief

“COVID was no one’s fault – It is not their fault they worked their whole life and COVID made it all come crashing down” explains ShelterCare Rapid Resolution Specialist and Case Manager Chelsea Sjostrom who is currently working in our rent relief program. A lot of the people Chelsea works with have always had a stable income and employment and have never had to reach out before, but the pandemic affected even those who are typically financially stable.

“There was a single dad who has never had to reach out for assistance from any agency. He was a truck driver that was successfully providing for himself and kids. He was 6-7 months behind on rent before finally getting to go back to work. We were able to pay all his back rent plus some. When he called in, he was balling,” says Chelsea about one of her clients.

It is the many stories like this that make all the hard work worth it for Chelsea, “It is hard to take care of yourself as well as your kids when you are lacking basic needs such as housing. When I can help them succeed and overcome the barriers they have, it is really rewarding.”

In 2020, ShelterCare was approached by Lane County to be one of many service providers to assist in distributing rent relief funds to individuals and families who had fallen behind on rent due to COVID-19. In the last year, ShelterCare has been able to provide $2,350,000 worth of aid to 693 households so far, 65% of which are families with children.

Chelsea explains that being out of work wasn’t the only problem families faced, “Single parents who were working may have had the opportunity to continue to work, but with schools and daycares closed, a lot of parents were forced to stay home and not work.”

Brandon Bell, a Case Manager with ShelterCare who also works on rent relief, further describes the issue, “if a parent loses work hours, at the end of the month, it adds up and puts a huge financial stress on the family.”

Families aren’t the only group struggling; 37% of folks assisted by ShelterCare are disabled. Brandon shared a story about an elderly client who had a stable job until getting injured in an accident – then on top of all that, was diagnosed with cancer, “the last thing she was thinking of is – I need to pay my rent. When she found out we could take care of rent payments it was a big weight off her shoulders.”

ShelterCare is proud to be serving a diverse group of people in our community. When it comes to age, almost half of those receiving assistance are within the typical ‘working people’ and ‘people with kids at home’ range. The majority of the other half are under 25 years old – an age group that often has a more difficult time bouncing back from financial hardship.

We are seeing a disproportionate amount of minority people in need of services compared to what Lane County’s census demographics represent.

Regardless of the reason for needing help, “Come July 1st, if people are not paying their July rent – they can get evicted,” says Chelsea in reference to the eviction moratorium ending.

“The rent assistance program is the safety net that can be the difference between them staying in their housing or becoming homeless,” Brandon says.

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