Jesse Tree of Idaho, a nonprofit that works to prevent evictions and homelessness, has been inundated with calls for help. Executive Director Ali Rabe said it’s been stressful, as requests for assistance have tripled.
“Before this our community was already in a crisis,” said Rabe. “With the COVID-19 crisis we’ve had to scale up to handle the volume. We anticipate calls from 300-400 families each month, and we can’t support everyone.”
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on nonprofits, and as people struggle to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families, many bigger-picture issues may fall to the wayside. However, Rabe said the pandemic only highlights and amplifies problems that already existed.
“We’ve gotten some more support from the community,” said Rabe. “We can help about 100 families a month with services and 50-60 with rental assistance, but it’s not enough and we need to raise more money.”
It’s a sentiment being echoed by nonprofits around the country. A statement released by The American Cancer Society put it this way: “Without dramatic and immediate financial and programmatic backstop from government, America’s charitable nonprofits and the people we serve face a precipitous decline in mission services at a time when our efforts are needed like never before by the most vulnerable in our communities.”
United Vision for Idaho is a local, progressive and multi-issue nonprofit coalition. It brings together other like-minded organizations and people to achieve shared progressive goals like universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage and climate justice. Executive Director Adrienne Evans said the pandemic has revealed the erosion of social services as she sees local nonprofits being pushed to their max.
“We are in a crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this country,” said Evans. “I’m overwhelmed by the compassion this community has shown but unless we address fundamental structural issues we will always just be putting a tourniquet on those problems and communities will suffer.”
Many of these communities already suffer from the rolling back of civil liberties that, Evans said, began after the Great Recession. Lacking funds, many organizations pulled out of rural America and in the interim created a vacuum that caused shifts in policies that further ignored rural communities. Alt-right movements quickly filled the space, and their narratives that tout white supremacy, self-sufficiency and rugged individualism made it more difficult to bring social programs to the people. Evans called it “anti-government, anti-democratic propaganda.”
The pandemic has only inflamed the situation. Evans said that policy makers have failed to address class, racial and economic issues that created these divides in the first place, and although the pandemic has created a larger need, now is the time to think about systemic changes.
Affordable housing options and evictions due to COVID-19 have become an especially large problem. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University made a nationwide database of evictions and city rankings. Idaho has a score of 0 out of 5 stars, and the state had no orders to prevent evictions as of April 28.
“This is the way housing has been in America forever and it isn’t affordable and outpaces wages,” said Rabe. “This is an opportunity to get more systemic change and keep people in their homes. I think we need more longer-term subsidies from the government.”
Rabe said if there’s a resurgence of crisis, there needs to be safety measures put into place for people. She said it’s not just renters who are hurting, there has also been a large uptick of homeowners calling the nonprofit scared about losing their homes because they can’t pay their mortgages.
“The housing crisis was already a huge problem here,” she said. “Now it’s exacerbated and people really need help.”
Jesse Tree is working on funding to help with homeowners, but eviction hearings are slated to begin again on Friday, May 1. Rabe said the office of Gov. Brad Little should give more guidance about the proceedings and the state needs to work on immediate changes to aid the people before the problem snowballs.
“None of us doesn’t do politics because politics does all of us,” said Evans. “We must come together and address the policies. If there were ever a time to change, this is the moment and if it isn’t, well, I don’t know if we’ll have a democracy worth fighting for.”