Since the onset of COVID-19 and the pandemic-induced recession, many Pasadena nonprofits have kicked into emergency mode in anticipation of accelerated needs among the clients they typically serve.
Some organizations — like Stars, which focuses on services for youth, and Door of Hope, a homelessness prevention agency — have thought outside the box to create partnerships in the time of crisis.
“We are stronger together right now. I think many nonprofits in the Pasadena area are looking to further their impact during COVID and really increasing their collaborations,” said Stars Executive Director Nancy Stiles. “There are all kinds of intersections when it comes to the nonprofit world.”
When Door of Hope Executive Director Megan Katerjian became aware of predictions of an eviction crisis throughout Los Angeles County, she and her team began to reach out to alumni of their well-established program who might be facing reduced income due to the furloughs imposed in many industries.
Citing a recent report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Katerjian sounded the alarm about a prediction that as many as 120,000 households with 184,000 children throughout L.A. County could experience homelessness because of the pandemic’s economic fallout. A more optimistic projection puts the numbers at 36,000 renter households with 56,000 children (based on U.S. Census figures for L.A. County), if support networks manage to remain in place.
“The likely outcome would fall somewhere in the middle, but even that ‘most optimistic estimate’ would more than double the homeless population,” Katerjian related.
Since it was founded in 1985, Door of Hope has worked to end the cycle of homelessness for 750 families with children. The faith-based organization has three separate facilities, where it can house up to 25 families at a time for a period of six months to a year, helping them regain financial and emotional stability through a multi-pronged educational approach that engrains structure and stability through case management, financial literacy education, employment coaching and counseling and therapy.
As Katerjian began to think of service workers who would likely be affected by the closure of restaurants, offices and public spaces, her mind immediately went to Stars, a nonprofit that typically provides after-school enrichment services to the children of such employees. Stars, she knew, also had recently pivoted to begin providing grocery distribution, as a large number of its clients had reported facing food insecurity during the pandemic.
“If they couldn’t afford food, how were they going to tackle rent? It became apparent this crisis wasn’t going anywhere,” Katerjian noted.
Meanwhile, Stars had just recently looked into extending short-term rent relief, through what it called “kindness grants,” that was intended to help families facing an emergency — such as a car accident, medical condition or sudden layoff — although the sustainability was worrisome, Stiles noted. Many of the families that had initially signed up to receive food distribution took themselves off the list when they went back to work during the short period of reopening, but had to reenroll for food as their employment again disappeared. Due to need at the pandemic’s outset, Stars has created a full-scale food and grocery distribution program, handling between 2.5 and three tons of food per week for up to 65 families or about 270 individuals, all of which is delivered to the homes.
“Our families were facing immediate layoffs or a severe reduction in hours, and I knew this was something they needed. It just seemed like working with Door of Hope was the perfect partnership,” she said.
An eviction moratorium was put in place in Pasadena and at the state level; the latter freeze, the UCLA study said, is set to expire some 90 days after the governor declares the coronavirus emergency has ended, or when the order is amended or repealed by local authorities.
“What happens when that ban is lifted? Now they’ve got a back bill of three months, already scraping by — it’s just prolonging eviction,” Katerjian said.
Lake Avenue Church came on board as a donor, and the three entities divvied up the funding structure into thirds and are offering to pay up to three months of rent. Those payments, along with Door of Hope’s case management and goal-oriented services, have given all those involved a boost of confidence: Of the families that graduate from the Door of Hope program, 97% are still housed after one year, and, within five years of leaving, 83% of the families remain permanently housed. Among its chief goals is restoration, which empowers mothers and fathers to regain their dignity and financial stability.
Door of Hope Programs Director Regina Dupree, who’s been coordinating the efforts, noted how much she’s enjoyed partnering with a different organization and learning new things along the way.
“I love it when people think outside the box to increase the impact … It’s been really interesting to see how Stars serves the undocumented population, for example, those who have very limited resources and no safety nets — COVID hit them particularly hard,” Dupree said.
The nonprofits have identified about 25 families that will need renter relief; many of them are led by day laborers, janitors or restaurant-service employees. She hopes that the rent relief, along with the supportive services to foster long-term financial independence, will help relieve some of the burden.
“Some of the financial help doesn’t cover all of their needs, but we are connecting them to resources they might not know about,” Dupree said. “When you’re really overwhelmed, it’s incredibly helpful to have someone say, ‘Let’s break this down into bite-sized pieces,’ and let them know we are walking alongside while they address those goals.”