Sharing House Seeing More Demand – Transylvania County, NC
Last updated 9/2/2020 at 4:51pm
The Sharing House saw a dramatic uptick in demands for its services in August as many emergency COVID-19 relief benefits ended recently, said its executive director, Shelly Webb.
The federal COVID-19 relief outlined in the CARES Act, additional unemployment benefits, an eviction moratorium and extra SNAP/EBT benefits have ended. And since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened in Transylvania County. Webb is worried that September will be a difficult month for the county's most economically vulnerable residents.
One of the Sharing House's most crucial services is emergency financial assistance, helping people pay their bills to keep folks from being evicted or being without electricity or running water.
In July, Webb said the Sharing House served five households with utility disconnects for a total of $550. In August, the organization served 27 households for a total bill of $3,298.
In August, the Sharing House also spent $17,497 to aid 126 households with financial crises, including rent, water, electricity and medications.
Webb said that in August of 2019 the organization spent $9,880 to aid 85 households.
Compared to last year, Webb said the Sharing House saw a 48 percent increase in the number of households served and a 77 percent increase in the amount of financial assistance given.
"All of the help that was happening to keep people afloat is slowly ending, and we knew it couldn't go on forever," she said. "At the same time, the problem hasn't been solved. The COVID experience has not been solved, so it's leaving people in the lurch."
Webb said the increase in demand for services has brought people seeking help that the organization has never seen before, or people who used the Sharing House's services during the 2008 recession.
In June and July, the organization saw a drop in the number of people coming for food donations due to extra SNAP/EBT benefits and an increase in access to free food in the county from food pantries and nonprofits. But as those benefits ended, people relying on them suddenly had less money in their pocket for groceries.
"We saw our numbers drop in July just through extra money that people were getting through their food stamps, which is a great sign for our community," Webb said. "I think people need to know that really people only come out asking for help when they need it. That's what it told me. When they had enough in their pockets to go buy food, they're not coming here to ask for more than what they needed."
However, as COVID-19 cases go up in the county, more people will lose work as businesses temporarily shutter due to infected employees, more people are asked to quarantine due to exposure to confirmed cases and more businesses experience loss of revenue as the pandemic stretches on.
"Those with lower economic status have been disproportionately suffering from the COVID experience, because, one, they don't have saving accounts usually," Webb said. "They're living paycheck to paycheck, and even if you miss two weeks because you got into quarantine, there is some funding that can help you, but you are missing wages. You're going to miss wages and that's detrimental to paying your rent. Eighty percent of the people we serve are working."
Webb explained that COVID-19 is impacting some much harder than others. The people who cannot work from home – the cashiers, the restaurant workers, the CNAs, the agriculture workers – the people who have an increased chance of exposure through their jobs, are the same folks who cannot afford to lose work, even for just a few days.
And in addition to economically vulnerable residents, minorities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Transylvania County.
As of Sept. 2, 19 percent of COVID-19 cases in Transylvania County were attributed to Hispanic residents, an ethnic demographic that only accounts for 3.4 percent of the county's population (according to 2015 county data.) Black residents account for 5 percent of Transylvania County COVID-19 cases, yet account for 4.1 percent of the Transylvania County population (according to 2015 county data.) Comparatively, while white residents make up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the county at 85 percent, proportionately, white residents account for 93.2 percent of Transylvania County residents (according to 2015 county data.)
"There are so many misnomers about people who are in poverty, or who are on the edge of poverty," Webb said. "We serve 200 percent of the poverty line, which is working poor, and I will say some of our people were very fearful. We were giving out masks to people because, early on especially, they are the cash register people at our retail stores, our grocery stores, our convenience stores. They are the CNAs. I mean those are the people we're serving who don't make enough money to live."
According to Webb, people who work in Social Services are worried for what September will bring. And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a "temporary eviction moratorium" on Sept. 1 to prevent people from becoming homeless due to COVID-19, it is unclear what the subsequent impact of the moratorium will have on Transylvania County, where affordable housing was already an issue before COVID-19.
Thankfully, Webb said the civilians and local government have shown the Sharing House substantial generosity to help the organization serve the community during the pandemic through grants and donations.
The Sharing House has been able to keep families housed and fed over the last few months with emergency relief, but Webb notes, the emergency funding is going fast.
To learn more about the Sharing Houses' services or to make a donation visit http://www.sharinghouse.org or call (828) 884-2866.