TUPELO • State and local advocates for homelessness prevention worry August will present new challenges as a federal eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits end.
While the state moratorium on evictions ended in June, the federal eviction moratorium ends July 24. Expanded unemployment benefits, which authorized a $600 weekly enhancement to unemployment benefits via the federal CARES Act coronavirus relief law, ends July 31.
Because of this, those who work with the homeless, vulnerable or those in crisis believe they haven’t seen the full wave of people facing true financial difficulties yet, said Mississippi Balance of State Continuum of Care (CoC) director Hannah Maharrey during a July 16 Tupelo Homeless Task Force meeting.
“We think come August 1st, there may be a lot of Mississippians having housing issues just because of the effects of COVID. The effects of COVID don’t just mean physical health effects,” Maharrey said. “A lot of people are having financial difficulties due to COVID.”
It will be one of the topics at the Virtual Homelessness 101 class on July 30th from 6 p.m. to 1 p.m. The virtual workshop, which features members of the City of Tupelo Task Force, Mississippi United to End Homelessness (MUTEH) and the Mississippi Balance of State (CoC), will explain how advocates are still working even during a pandemic. This includes discussing how they changed their service model to ensure they take necessary precautions to keep homeless service providers, staff and homeless population safe.
This will be the fourth Homelessness 101, but the first one offered through Zoom. Homelessness 101 is for anyone who wants to learn more but is not in the Homeless Task Force. The program will discuss the extenuating circumstances that can cause homelessness and what the task force does to address homelessness on a regular basis.
“We’re not letting COVID deter us. We’re still trying to identify and address street homelessness as soon as we possibly can, and try to connect our homeless population to housing as soon as we possibly can. It had just been more challenging that it normally would have been due to COVID,” Maharrey said.
A future class for nonprofit partners is currently being planned for August, though a date hasn’t been set yet. Maharrey said it was important for community partners to also focus on ending homelessness in order to continue the 2020 goal of ending street homelessness in Tupelo.
Housing advocates are also preparing for housing needs that will be caused specifically by COVID-19. The Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (RAMP), an approximately $8 million Emergency Solutions Grant COVID-19 (ESG-COVID) authorized by the CARES Act, will provide rental assistance and emergency housing relief to those who qualify. Funds will be allocated by the Mississippi Home Corporation, split primarily among MUTEH, the Central Mississippi CoC and Open Doors Homeless Coalition. The program will be a two year program.
MUTEH will expand their programming with the 71 counties within the Mississippi Balance of State CoC, which includes Northeast Mississippi. A new employee will be hired to handle any referrals received for the RAMP program. Eligibility for RAMP will differ from eligibility for other MUTEH services, as only those who show they are at risk for homelessness or a housing crisis specifically due to COVID-19.
“That’s why this program is really important, to make sure we are able to help people who typically wouldn’t even experience housing difficulties, but due to COVID they are. We don’t want them to get lost in the gap,” Maharrey said.
A new employee will be hired to handle any referrals received for the RAMP program. People will be referred to RAMP through a central intake process to document their housing crisis is due to COVID-19. This can be completed by calling the MUTEH Central Intake number at 601-960-0557 or the MUTEH online screening portal at www.muteh.org.
Those interested in participating in the Virtual Homelessness 101 can email Maharrey at email@example.com or visit the Facebook event page for a link to the sign-up sheet. A Q&A will follow the regular presentation. Attendees are encouraged to submit questions in advance via email or on their sign up form.
The Tupelo Homeless Task Force is also seeking donations of mattresses, including any used mattresses that are “relatively clean,” after running out of mattresses. They’re also calling for bottled water for their summer cooling station/water program.