Launched jointly by the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation and Oshkosh Area United Way, the Oshkosh COVID-19 Relief Fund has been supporting efforts to keep residents experiencing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis in their homes and provide people experiencing homelessness with round-the-clock emergency shelter.
“The 2018 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) study showed that 46% of households in the City of Oshkosh are living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet,” said Bill Wyman, president and CEO of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. “Our goal is give added support to those organizations on the front lines of caring for these working families and other vulnerable populations, who have no safety net in times of crisis, and are facing the impossible decisions of how to cover their bills in light of challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Typically, the Day by Day Warming Shelter closes in mid-April each spring. Recognizing that individuals without homes are at greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, the Oshkosh COVID-19 Relief Fund and the City of Oshkosh came together to not only provide funding to postpone the shelter’s closing date but also offer 24/7 shelter during the month of May. A $6,000 grant from the Relief Fund supported this project.
Wisconsin was under a statewide moratorium on eviction filings because of the COVID-19 pandemic until May 26. The Oshkosh COVID-19 Relief Fund convened a Winnebago County Eviction Prevention Taskforce to help residents navigate the flow of information regarding the moratorium.
Grants to the Winnebago Conflict Resolution Center and BreatheFree, Inc. totaling almost $1,500 allowed the taskforce to provide clear and accurate information to members of our community around the eviction moratorium and actions to take now to prevent future financial struggles. Tenant Information Sheets were made available in English, Hmong, Arabic, Spanish, Karen and Swahili.
In Winnebago County, the number of eviction suits filed doubled year over year with 80 filed in June 1 through 24, 2020 compared with 40 during the same time period in June 2019, based on online court records.
According to Mary Ann Dilling, president and CEO of the Oshkosh United Way, their 211 information and referral line saw a 132% increase in the number of calls requesting rental assistance so far in June compared to 2019.
The Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program (WRAP) should help some tenants catch up on missed payments. The Oshkosh COVID-19 Relief Fund is closing monitoring WRAP applications as it is feared that help needed from people who are behind on their rent is far greater than what the government funding can support.
The $25 million program will provide up to $3,000 to eligible individuals for making up missed rent payments or security deposits. It’s funded by money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed at the end of March.
Lu Scheer is the affordable housing director at ADVOCAP, one of the community action organizations that is administering the WRAP funding in Winnebago, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, and Calumet Counties. Scheer said her organization started taking applications on June 8 and in the first two weeks, 55 Winnebago County households have been approved to receive rental assistance.
Scheer said many people have used part of their government stimulus check or increased unemployment benefits to pay rent up front but are now concerned about having money for current and future months.
“Sometimes they are prioritizing rent. But if they do that, then they don’t have any money left for other household expenses. Or because the eviction moratorium was in place through May 26, they paid other critical bills that they still had to pay and now they’re behind on rent,” Scheer said. “We also have some people who come to us who have not yet received their unemployment benefits even now, even though they were laid off several weeks ago, even months ago.”
If you find yourself unable to pay rent because COVID-19 has had a negative impact on your income, please call (920) 922-7760 to see if you qualify for assistance.
There are many ways to support our community in this time of need. In addition to considering a gift to the Oshkosh COVID-19 Relief Fund, residents are encouraged to continue to support the charities they care about that are struggling with diminished revenue.