TUPELO • Nonprofit organizations offering financial assistance with rent and utilities are prepared for those impacted by COVID-19.
Within Northeast Mississippi, organizations such as United Way of Northeast Mississippi and Doors of Hope in Oxford are offering financial assistance specifically for financial needs due to COVID-19.
Doors of Hope helps homeless families or families at risk for being homeless in Lafayette County through programs such as its shelter program, life skills classes, and housing in place, but Executive Director Mary Margaret Andrews said they began shifting gears in March to offer COVID-19 assistance to families. Qualifications include being 21 years old or an emancipated adult 18 and over with custody of a minor child, a Lafayette County resident for a minimum of six months, laid off or jobless due to COVID-19. Relevant documents must be provided.
So far, Doors of Hope has assisted 72 families with rent and utilities since the end of March. However, with extended unemployment benefits ending July 26, Andrews said she anticipates seeding another wave of need at the end of the month.
“COVID has not gone away. Some people have returned to work, but some people have not, and some people have not returned to work at 40 hours a week, so there’s going to be a big need once the unemployment benefits cease,” Andrews said.
United Way of Northeast Mississippi President Melinda Tidwell mentioned similar concerns during a Thursday morning Tupelo Homeless Task Force meeting via Zoom. S.A.F.E., Inc. of Tupelo, which has been allocated funds via the United Way of Northeast Mississippi and CREATE Foundation to administer to those vulnerable for evictions or rent/utility difficulties, still has money available to assist. The funds are for one time assistance. Applications for the COVID-19 Support Fund can be done online at http://www.unitedwaynems.org/covid19app or by phone. Chickasaw residents can call Excel, Inc. at 662-447-2030. Other counties in the United Way of Northeast Mississippi coverage area can call S.A.F.E., Inc. at 662-841-9138.
Resources such as LIFT, Inc. and Change Amory offer rental and utilities assistance as part of their programs year round, but the pandemic temporarily impacted how services operated. LIFT Inc., which serves eight counties of Calhoun, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lafayette, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc and Union, are not allowing clients to end their physical office, but many of their social services are still being offered. Executive Director Dorothy Leasy said LIFT, Inc., which operates primarily through grants, serves over 4,000 households per year through its regular services. It has CARES Act funding to address additional needs as well, said Leasy and Director of Programs Marilyn Davis.
“We’re having requests, and we’re expecting more because the virus is steadily increasing in our state,” Leasy said. “We do have grants that, once we identify that this household has suffered from coronavirus, we can pay it out of those funds.”
Davis said their weatherization program, one of their most popular programs aside from rent and utilities assistance, has been put on pause to protect clients and workers.
“It really has hurt our weatherization program because we have to go into clients’ homes to do the weatherization work,” Davis said. “... We’re in the process of trying to figure out a way to get back.”
For the time being, they are taking online classes to prepare for when they can operate again and how to safely provide those services. They have assisted with several tax requests via their free tax service, and clients are still able to make requests. LIFT, Inc. is seeking grants to provide masks, gloves and other PPE to senior citizens.
Change Amory serves people who live within school district limits for Hatley, Smithville and Amory. Because they operate on limited funds, the organization mainly offers rent and evictions assistance. In 2019, they assisted 135 people with utilities, 25 households with rent or mortgage, fulfilled one transportation need and saw 81 new clients. In 2018, they saw 81 new clients and fulfilled 196 utility needs, 26 rent or mortgage needs and three car needs. Fellerhoff said while there are some clients who are newly in need, many of their existing clients were already low income.
“Those people who had problems before the pandemic, it’s exacerbated by the pandemic,” Fellerhoff. “We’ve had a few new clients come in because of that.”
Change Amory had to close from March 16 to June 1 due to COVID-19. During that time, the agency worked behind the scenes with their discretionary funding to have funds immediately available when clients could return, said Sister Mary Christine Fellerhoff, the executive director. Both Leasy and Fellerhoff said utilities companies offering payment plans for clients, which allow people to pay off bigger bills spread out in order to avoid utilities shut-offs, has helped clients who would otherwise need their assistance.
For both Change Amory and LIFT, Inc., clients must meet federal poverty and grant guidelines and provide necessary identifying information. For those applying specifically for COVID-19 related aid, Leasy said LIFT, Inc. will request additional verification to verify that impact.
Change Amory is open most Mondays from 1 to 3 p.m. in their office at 401 8th Ave. S, Amory near St. Helen’s Catholic Church. Clients are asked to wear a mask, but staff also have some available for clients. Spaces are sanitized, and the number of clients allowed in at a time are limited. Clients may be asked to fill out some paperwork in their car. Change Amory will work with various housing agencies to post fliers, give information to clients and seek referrals. Those in need may call 662-491-1022 and leave a message.
LIFT, Inc. provides services Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Clients may mail documents to them, and Davis said clients are welcome to mail, email, fax or drop off information. Clients may call LIFT, Inc. at 662-842-9511. Their address is 2577 McCullough Blvd., Belden, MS 38826.
Doors of Hope’s office is temporarily closed as staff work from home. Their regular housing programs, which last four to six months, have continued; there are currently four clients housing in place, and Doors of Hope attends weekly Zoom meetings, hosted by Project Thrive, with other agencies to discuss how to help as many families as possible.
They are currently accepting monetary donations and donations of household goods, cleaning supplies and hygiene items. A link to donate is available on their website at http://doorsofhopeoxford.org. Donation drop offs can be arranged. Large furniture donations are being referred to Holding Hands for the time being. Those requiring assistance can still call the office at 662-234-1100 or through their Facebook or website. Both a COVID-19 application and application for their regular programs are available on the website.
“These are families that are single moms, and they’re working hard, but they’re making minimum wage, and they live paycheck to paycheck, and any disruption, such as COVID-19, really affects them,” Andrews said. “They just need a little help, and this is when our community needs to come together and support agencies like Doors of Hope so that we can get those people the help that they need.”