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Homelessness and Covid-19: Resources and how to access Pinellas CARES dollars

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.

On this episode, Susan Myers, CEO of Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst to talk about how the most vulnerable in our community are faring during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Myers explains that the Homeless Leadership Appliance oversees the entire continuum of care for homeless residents in Pinellas County. The organization is mostly administrative, not direct service, and is appointed by the Department Of Housing and Urban Development to apply for and manage HUD dollars for homelessness programs. The Alliance brings over $4 million to the Pinellas community to work toward ending homelessness.

The Alliance works with a housing-first strategy. “We do believe that the ultimate solution to homelessness is housing,” says Myers. “Housing first. Everybody comes with some issues, including me and you, but we believe that people need to be housed first, and then we can deal with their issues, whether that’s a job, mental health issues, substance abuse issues.”

A major priority for the Alliance is to prevent homelessness in the first place. They offer numerous resources for keeping people in their homes or getting people back in their homes as quickly as possible. Unfortuantely, due to the great need of the community, there is a waitlist for those services.

As the pandemic ramped up in severity, many shelters stopped taking new residents, in order to ensure the safety of those that were already living in the shelter, but Myers says that many shelters are still open and have capacity for those in need. Homeless Leadership Alliance and Directions for Living have teamed up to perform targeted street outreach in places where local homeless residents tend to gather. Volunteers hand out food and point homeless residents toward various community resources.

In the downtown area, major homeless resources include St. Vincent De Paul, Salvation Army and Daystar, which offer food, bus passes and resource guides. For those worried about paying their rent or mortgage, Myers suggest reaching out to 2-1-1, the county help system that is charged with distributing the federal dollars that Pinellas County received through the CARES Act.

Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance Program

Description:

• To provide one-time assistance to individuals or families of up to $4,000 to pay overdue rent, mortgage or utility bills

Eligibility criteria:

• U.S. citizen/legal permanent resident

• Pinellas County resident

• Income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For one person, that’s $25,520 and for a household of two, that’s $34,480.

• Liquid asset equal to or less than $4,000, such as cash, savings or checking accounts

Verification:

• Demonstrate loss of income as a direct result of Covid-19, such as a layoff or furlough notice, or proof of reduction in work hours

Process:

• Text COVIDCARES to 898211. There will be a series of questions and prompts to walk an applicant through the process, and tell the applicant how to provide details for submitting required documents to a designated email address

OR

• Call 211, where county staff will gather eligibility information to assist with preliminary screening and help facilitate the documentation process.

Residents will be contacted when their case is approved or denied. Financial assistance is paid directly to the landlord, mortgage holder and/or utility company.

Applications for the Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance Program will continue through June 1.

There’s no cap on the funds for the financial assistance program for individuals and families, because the county doesn’t know how many people might qualify for the program. Burton said he doesn’t want to turn way anyone who is eligible.

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