WEST HAVEN — For the first time in her life, Bobbieann Allen — out of work due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic — had feared the prospect of eviction.
“Nobody would help me. Everybody turned me down,” she said, remembering her fruitless search for help earlier this year as her savings dwindled and she investigated job prospects.
Finally, she turned to the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership, or OWCAP, tapping into a rental-assistance program meant to help those adversely hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s made all the difference, providing the funds she needed in a pinch, and program boosters are touting it as a means of keeping those hit by the flagging economy in their homes as they get on their feet.
Allen, who had been a medical assistant, is back on her feet now, making and selling face coverings and, in search of a career change, attending cosmetology school. But she shudders at the prospects had the OWCAP program not been there with the help she needed, when she needed it. “I’d probably be homeless right now,” she said.
Some $1.26 million in rental assistance funding is available in all through the OWCAP program, coming from four grants with varying rules and guidelines on how the money can be used. “I think it’s going to help a large amount of people. We’ve got to keep them from that homeless state by giving that rental assistance,” said Chris Ipsen, the OWCAP executive director.
More than 50 people around Weber County have been able to tap into the program thus far, collectively securing some $63,000 in assistance. Ipsen suspects demand will increase after the looming phaseout of the extra $600 in federal money now going into weekly unemployment benefit payments.
Without such support programs, Lauren Navidomskis, director of Ogden’s Lantern House, which serves the homeless, worries the ranks of people needing helping from organizations like hers could surge. Programs like the OWCAP initiative are “absolutely instrumental in keeping people from falling into homelessness,” she said.
Jordan Barrett, an OWCAP social worker who’s helping administer the program, noted that helping keep someone out of homelessness in the first place can save resources over the long haul.
“Once someone has entered homelessness, the road to self-sufficiency is much longer and more expensive,” he said. Indeed, the transition from homelessness to stability and self-sufficiency for those so impacted can take up to a year.
Andi Beadles, executive director of the Weber Housing Authority, had earlier expressed concern to the Standard-Examiner that some who need rental assistance wouldn’t be able to tap into the local programming due to restrictions on who may access the money. Much of it comes from the CARES Act, the federal initiative aimed at countering the economic impacts of COVID-19. Ipsen, though, said different pots of funding have different guidelines, allowing people in a range of circumstances to tap into the assistance.
The programs also can help cover utility costs. For more information, call OWCAP at 801-399-9281, extension 998.
‘I WAS FREAKING OUT’Allen, a medical assistant in a doctor’s office, had seen her hours steadily decline as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier this spring and people shied from visiting doctors if they didn’t have coronavirus. Ultimately, she quit, unable to get by on the money she was earning. It was the first time she hadn’t had a job since she was a teen.
The subsequent search for help was eye-opening and alarming. Some programs require applicants to have young children or be pregnant, circumstances that don’t apply to Allen. Others require applicants to have had their applications for unemployment benefits rejected. Allen had applied for jobless benefits but received no immediate response from the Utah Department of Workforce Services, putting her in a sort of limbo.
Meantime, she was eating through her savings. “I was freaking out, was really worried,” Allen said.
Ashley Carrillo of Ogden found herself in similar circumstances. She had quit one financial planning job for another just as the pandemic hit, only to see the job offer fizzle, leaving her out of work. With four kids, she too quickly spent her savings, found herself unable to keep up with rent payments.
“I was already getting warnings on that from the landlord, saying I was going to be evicted,” Carrillo said.
For both, the OWCAP rental-assistance initiatives kept them afloat, and while Carrillo is still searching for work, Allen said she now feels a semblance of security. She started making face coverings, which have jumped in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she’s earning enough selling them to make ends meet.
“I’m all caught up and just kind of chugging away at making these masks,” she said.
Finally, she can rest easy, for now anyway. “I think I’m going to be OK,” Allen said.