PHOENIX — The true impact of COVID-19 on communities is just coming to light, even as the number of hospitalizations and cases starts to see a decline. That's according to staff working at one Valley non-profit that is working around the clock to prevent people from losing their homes, and face eviction.
Jacki Taylor who is the CEO of Save the Family Foundation said all the studies she has seen predict a "tsunami" of homelessness to come, as those who have lost jobs face the real possibility of losing the roofs over their head. The agency, which was founded 30 years ago to help re-house the homeless, especially single mothers getting out of domestic violence situations, has now put a big focus on eviction prevention in the East Valley.
Lisa Bratcher had the new title of COVID trainer for the Save the Family Foundation. She managed and oversaw all of the grants the organization received from the cities they have partnered with. This money came from the CARES act and was meant specifically for eviction prevention programs.
Bratcher said since last March the agency has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and received hundreds of applications from people on the verge of getting evicted from their rental apartments or homes.
Her full-time job entailed processing applications from those who had applied, working with landlords, and visiting apartment complexes letting them know about the program, so they could get struggling tenants enrolled. A big part of the application process included getting all of the documents needed to qualify for the grant. This included pay stubs, tax returns, and letters from an employee stating one had been financially impacted by COVID-19 layoffs, furloughs, or a reduction in the number of hours they could work.
COVID-19 was a disease that was impacting livelihoods, not just lives, and Bratcher said the numbers they were seeing coming to them for help was just starting to increase.
"People come to us usually when they've exhausted all their options, they've been impacted by COVID financially and they've gone through all their savings, they dipped into the 401K, they've used the stimulus money, they've got no other options," said Bratcher.
Save the Family Foundation allowed ABC15 a behind-the-scenes look at the program, as they worked with applicants to get the paperwork needed to qualify for the eviction prevention dollars. Tina Ferrari was one of several clients who came by their office to sign her contract after learning her application had been approved. Ferrari said she was overwhelmed.
"I don't like taking help from people but when you need it, you need it," said Ferrari.
Ferrari went from being a supervisor at a call center to jobless overnight, during the height of the pandemic last summer. The company she worked for downsized the number of employees in the building. Ferrari was a casualty of the downsizing. The loss of a job meant the loss of an income, and Ferrari said she was in a state of panic not knowing how she would care for her two children and aging mother, let alone pay her sky-rocketing rent of more than $1,000 and all of her utility bills.
"I had a nervous breakdown, a really bad panic attack. I just, kind of was ready to let go of everything I had nothing left," said Ferrari.
Her property managers tried to work with her for months, allowing her to pay whatever she could, when she could. Ferrari was able to find a part-time job, but the wages were so low, they would not even cover the monthly rent, let alone food, electric, and water bills. The mother found herself getting deeper and deeper in debt, as her unpaid rent bill kept climbing.
"When this first happened, I owed them about $8,000. It was very overwhelming. I didn't know how I was going to dig myself out of it," said Ferrari.
Then an assistant property manager referred her to Save the Family. The agency saved Ferrari from losing her home.
"We pay their rent. With Mesa, we're able to pay up to six months of rent or pay the arrears. We can also help with utilities. We just want to make sure they can keep their housing and they're not going to be evicted," said Bratcher.
She added that they could also help approved applicants with unpaid utility bills, and she stressed that once Save the Family paid off their debt, the tenant was not liable to return any of that money to the agency.
"Once it's paid, it's paid. You owe us nothing," said Bratcher.
The agency had run out of money to help tenants in Gilbert, but still had money to help those in Mesa. CEO Jacki Taylor predicted more people would be applying for help over the next few months.
"We are seeing the effects of COVID now more than before it first happened," Taylor said.
She added that despite a 'moratorium' on evictions, the reality was that people were getting evicted from their homes every day.
"One of the keys to the moratorium is you have to prove a COVID connection to get the prevention dollars," said Taylor.
A letter from an employer stating the reason for your job loss or reduction in work hours was sufficient. Bratcher said those who had no choice but to reduce their work hours due to lack of childcare caused by the pandemic could also qualify for help.
For Ferrari, this help has been life-changing.
"I was just like so relieved and thankful I was in tears. I got to sleep for a full 24 hours," she said.
Bratcher says those who did not qualify for help through their agency will be referred to others who may be able to help them.
"We don't just say hey, you're denied, go away. We will give them other resources. We will even make calls for them and help them get what they need in order to get help from other resources in the community," said Bratcher.
There are many other agencies like Save the Family that provide eviction prevention help to those in need. Your local city or county should be able to connect you with those agencies.
You can learn more about Save the Family at Save the Family - Stable Homes. Safe Children. Strong Families.
Taylor added that landlords needed relief too. She hoped the next round of relief would include help for landlords, to offset the losses they faced from the lack of rental income, as landlords would be more likely to work with tenants facing eviction if they could get some help as well.