Updated: Jul 7, 2020
This article was written by Sandra Pennecke for The Virginian-Pilot.
NORFOLK — When Virginia ended the moratorium Monday on evictions it put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, the ForKids’ Housing Crisis Hotline in Norfolk blew up.
On a typical Monday, the center fields 200 to 250 calls. With that lifeline being pulled and the rent due Wednesday, ForKids got 935 calls, said Thaler McCormick, who leads the Norfolk-based nonprofit that fights homelessness.
It was record number. The next day, instead of four times the normal volume, they got three times as many calls as usual.
McCormick said people are scared about their health, and housing is the most fundamental way for people to feel safe. “You can’t follow a stay-at-home order if you don’t have a home,” she said.
Her message to people who are frightened of slipping into homelessness, and the message given to hotline callers, is that millions of dollars in aid is available.
“The great news, at this moment, is there are a lot of resources available in this region,” McCormick said. “The bad news is every city is doing it differently, so your eligibility depends on your specific financial situation and where you live.”
The hotline team, at 757-587-4202, screens callers to connect them with the best possible help.
McCormick said they have more than 400 resources in the system. Virginia just started its Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, using $50 million in funding from the federal CARES Act to help renters and homeowners. ForKids can help people tap into other relief programs related to COVID-19, Community Development Block Grants, the United Way, city relief funds, and grants from individuals and foundations.
As of Wednesday, McCormick said, ForKids was cutting assistance checks to landlords.
The state moratorium enabled ForKids and other service providers to prepare for this week, when pending evictions would start moving forward in the courts.
“A lot of people are very concerned,” McCormick said. “Our goal in the hotline is that an overwhelmingly majority of people will reach a live human, not a router system.”
ForKids ramped up in anticipation of the extra traffic, and they still had to redeploy 10 staffers from other parts of the organization into the call center — which has 13 seats and serves 14 cities in the region — to manage the extraordinary volume.
“When people are facing eviction, one of the best things we can do is connect them with a human to be able to talk them through what their options are and what they’re eligible for,” she said. “So they don’t have to be making 20 calls around the region; they can make one and be put in the right shoot.”
Family homelessness usually spikes in the summer, and the pandemic has worsened the problem.
“Approximately 50% of the calls are people that have experienced a specific COVID-19 loss,” she said. “People are really worried and they’re really behind.”
But, McCormick encourages people to be patient and not panic.
“There are resources available and truly there is millions of dollars coming in to Hampton Roads,” she said. “It’s great to be able to connect people and work with them at what is a real moment of crisis for everybody.”
Persons in need of rent or mortgage assistance as a result of the pandemic can call the ForKids’ Housing Crisis Hotline at 757-587-4202. Information on eligibility and applications for assistance are on Resources757.org and forkids.org.
Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-222-5356,firstname.lastname@example.org