Who’s Got Our Back?

Bob George

In these trying times the question comes to mind; Who has our back?; Who is looking out for us and our future as the world goes south from a pandemic, climate change and loss of faith in our leadership?”;or as we said in the Navy; “Who’s got your six?”

The answer came to me in the form of a letter. It was from the United Way of Southern Chester County (UWSCC) which talked about how the organization is rallying the community to address the greatest needs during the pandemic. This has always been the organization that helped the best of our non-profits (The Food Cupboard, YoungMoms, The Senior Center, After-the-Bell, The Garage Youth Center,Domestic Violence,Adult Literacy, etc.) thrive. The UWSCC is always looking at the white spaces of the needs in our community. They are there for sustainability of non-profits as well as hurricanes, fires, and now the pandemic.

Their mission; “To improve people's lives by mobilizing the caring power and resources of our community; to provide local non-profit agencies with needed financial, professional, and strategic support; and to ensure that contributions fund programs that effectively move people from crisis to independence.”

So, when the COVID hit, they raised $120,000 for Kennett that went to provide testing for the virus (22%), rent and utilities support for people who lost their jobs (69%), food distribution (5%) and mental health support (4%).

And if there is any number that says efficient and effective, it’s 15% of the people they tested for the virus were positive, which is way above the national average of 5%. These people had been going untested and were spreading the virus.

When a huge number of working folks are forced out of work, there are issues of people being pushed out of their apartments and homes after one or two missed payments. The idea of these people going out on the streets is a nightmare that you don’t want to contemplate.

So, help them with their payments until the members of the household can get their jobs back. The assistance to these unemployed who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 is the major funding priority for the next few months.

I talked to Carrie Freeman, CEO of the United Way and she said: “The governor has stopped evictions for the time being; but landlords need to be paid at some point since their bills are ongoing also. The federally-funded CARES rent relief program for residents impacted financially by the pandemic has requirements attached to it that make it unworkable.

Landlords must be willing to accept only $750 in rent for 6 months (even if the regular rent is $1200/mo.) and landlords have to file documents concurrently with the renters for them to qualify. With reluctant landlords, many are not applying for this federal program. PA’s unemployment system is so backed up, it is not the lifeline that it was intended to be.”

Carrie says the generosity of our community is keeping the food cupboards stocked, but will that momentum last for another 6 months?

Freeman reports; “There is real concern over massive burn-out on the staffs of our local non-profits. They have been working diligently and adapting to serve everyone’s needs since March without a break.

Our local food cupboard and emergency assistance provider (KACS) has seen 2.5 times increase in emergency requests processed (537 emergency requests/payments from March – August 2020 compared to only 152 for the same period of time in 2019). This is an unsustainable pace for anyone for the next year.”

But her real concern is not for KACS and the crisis intervention organizations. The public sees the need here. Carrie worries about the nonprofits providing less vital survival services such as the arts, culture and education. The Senior Center has been closed for seven months. As these programs are forced to close down, their revenue streams will stop and starting up will be that much harder. I’m even worried about our local churches.

Carrie said something that really hit home; “My other worry is that it feels like chronic anxiety is settling over the land. Between Mother Nature, politics, and COVID, our community is being battered with endless forced social isolation and bad news. People draw strength and inspiration for others and our social outlets are seriously compromised.

Frankly, the Boomer Generation down to Generation Z is not as mentally tough as those of the Greatest Generation. Those raised in the 50s’ on haven’t really learned to cope with true deprivation and hardships.

Life has been relatively easy for them until COVID. I don’t believe we have enough mental health services available in our area to handle the large numbers of people who could use counseling to get through this pandemic. And there is a challenge to have people recognize that they really could benefit from getting help and they shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for it or seek it out.”

My take is during these difficult times we really must meet the baseline needs. Kids and their families shouldn’t go to bed hungry. They need a roof over their heads, and the cheapest one to meet that need is the home that they already have. We don’t want a tent city like Philadelphia during the winter for homeless families.We have to provide vaccines and health care for the kids and their families so they are protected from illness.And let’s keep the kids moving through a world class education so they can graduate to the next level.

Everyone needs to be safe from domestic violence and criminal activity. And, as Carrie has pointed out that even more than ever there is need the support for mental health issues.

This month is the 75th anniversary of the UWSCC. Let’s make sure they get the resources requiredto respond to these urgent needs.

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