Published May 31, 2020, by Michele Brown
Powered by the AK Can Do fund, as of May 27, Lutheran Social Services has provided rent or utility assistance to 416 Anchorage area families hit hard when they lost livelihoods to the coronavirus shutdown. That’s almost $360,000 that has gone swiftly to more than 1300 of our neighbors. Most have covered rent to keep families housed, a precious one-month bridge to better times, and a hedge against the specter of back rent to come.
The help isn’t massive, but it’s fast and personal, and as one recipient said, without judgment. There is vetting. For the AK Can Do program, applicants are screened, often through United Way’s Alaska 2-1-1 helpline, to make sure they lost work due to the pandemic. These are working Alaskans who often come in the door frustrated and fearful, not knowing what they’ll have to navigate and expect to jump through hoops.
“They’re all surprised,” Lutheran Social Services staffer Joseph Mongold said. Show a pay stub, a lease agreement or utility notice, and walk out with a check to their landlord or utility. Often, it’s just a 10-minute session, and then “they can sleep that night.”
And wake up encouraged and hopeful.
“It’s been a rough two months,” said Kenneth Dent, 54. The pandemic took his warehouse and distribution job at Spenard Builders Supply and his rent was raised to $1300 a month. A $1,000 check made out to his landlord makes a big difference. “I can breathe,” he said. “This here keeps my head above water.”
“It was just the stress that gets to you,” he said. He’s struggled in spite of the federal stimulus help — That $1200 was welcome but wasn’t enough to cover his bills. “A lot of time when you worry it’s out of your control.” Rental returned some sense of control.
In early May, a call from Spenard Builders returned Kenneth to work. Rental help kept him from falling behind.
For a Type 1 diabetic, the choice between insulin and rent is stark. That’s the choice that Samantha Gibbs may shortly be facing. Gibbs, 27, knows both personally and professionally how vital health insurance is. She works as a health benefits specialist at the Alaska Native Medical Center. “That’s what I do on a daily basis, help people find those resources.”
When COVID-19 hit, Gibbs was working a second job, too, as a server at Texas Roadhouse. Now the pandemic’s fallout threatens her day job as well — she said she and her co-workers at ANMC have been warned of furloughs due to lost revenue during the lockdown. Her job there includes health benefits, and those benefits cover the $1700 a month for the two types of insulin she must take.
“I need this to live,” she said.
She’s fortunate in that she has family in Kenai so she won’t be homeless if she can’t make rent. She knows she can apply for Medicaid coverage if she loses her ANMC job. But her diabetes allows for no gaps. That’s why the $925 rent check from LSSA eases the strain of wages lost with her second job and gives her a cushion for the insulin she needs to stay alive. That’s why Lutheran Social Services made an exception for her and provided a second month of assistance.
“I am so thankful to you guys.”
Malu Toi, a mother of three, worked for almost two years as a driver and floor worker for Hearts and Hands/Lifeworks, providing daycare services for seniors and disabled persons. When the business shut down for the pandemic, her livelihood went with it. Since then she’s had one daughter’s drive-by graduation at Dimond High and her son’s 10th birthday; she laughed when asked about life fulltime with the kids at home and told about her son winning four awards at school. “He makes me happy,” she said, then added that he told her, “Mom, go get a job.”
She’s working on it. She’s applied at Door Dash. And she says she made a mistake early on — “I didn’t pay attention to what my boss told me – start filing for unemployment.” She has since filed. “If I’m OK with my unemployment, I only need this month for my rent,” she said. A $1,000 one-time shot will cover most of her $1300 rent.
Lindsey was a behavioral health associate at the Salvation Army’s Clitheroe Center, working in the women’s treatment center. She’d had the job for about five months when the pandemic struck. She said that cut the residents from 12 to four and cut her job as well at the end of March. A $1000 check covers more than half of her $1800 rent for the home she shares with three children and their father. “It’s made a lot of difference,” she said.
COVID-19 shut Breanna’s business down cold. She’s a professional photographer who does a range of work out of her home studio but specializes in boudoir photography. “I’m a social business,” she said. “It depends on how everybody else is doing.” She and her husband have two children, 8 and 6, and rent of $2345.He’s a carpenter and has been able to keep working, and Breanna said she has continued part-time work – at reduced hours – coordinating flight training at an air cargo service.
The pandemic shutdown “didn’t hit us as hard as it hit others,” she said, but she does not take the help with a month’s rent for granted. “I’m super grateful,” she said, adding that the clutch help from Lutheran Social Services worked “exactly as it’s meant to.”