Collaboration between public and non-profit organizations is the silver lining of a very destructive pandemic. | Monterey County NOW Intro

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Pam Marino here, thinking of the phrase we often heard at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic: “We are all in the same boat.”

A cover story I wrote in November 2020 basically pointed out that no we are not. The racial and economic inequalities that exist leave many people suffering more severely than others from the ravages of the virus. Then he set out that because the state insisted that the only way out of shelter-in-place for every county was to focus on eliminating inequality, we had to be in it together.

(Today I revisited this story, as well as an intro to the newsletter I wrote that same week that said we all needed to work together to “get out of the purple tier.” It’s amazing how dated it seems – as if it happened ten years ago.)

In last week’s print edition of WeeklyI reported the $94,000 now available through Goodwill Central Coast for people who, for various reasons, did not fully qualify for the Covid-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (or ERAP ) and utility assistance which has been available since March of last year.

While about 8,000 Monterey County households are eligible for $46 million in emergency aide, there were an unknown number of other households that couldn’t quite make the cut. Either their combined income was just above the low income cutoff or they couldn’t prove their rental status. (Think of someone renting a room in a secret house. No rental agreement, no support.)

To help people in these situations, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors last fall approved $150,000 to support “housing permanence.” It is not used directly for rent, but it is used to cover expenses that force families to choose between paying rent or paying other necessary expenses that could cause them to lose their housing. Fixing the car so you can get to work is just one example.

As it did with ERAP and utility assistance last year, the county turned to United Way Monterey County to distribute housing permanency funds between March and June. United Way in turn named Goodwill to distribute $94,000. (Gathering for Women distributes the rest.) It’s a model (spreading government money to a contracting organization like United Way, which then leverages a number of smaller, community-based nonprofits) which has proven effective during the pandemic, at least here in Monterey County, says United Way CEO Katy Castagna.

I asked Castagna about the lessons learned from the experience. First and foremost, she says, they were able to speed up the distribution of money thanks to the partnership between public and nonprofit agencies working together. “No agency could have done this,” she says.

“Organizations have really stretched and worked collaboratively on a scale that we’ve never had before,” she says. “We’ve proven to be a very responsive and adaptive community, keen to make sure people aren’t left behind.”

There are examples of this throughout the pandemic in our county. The Covid-19 collaboration through the Community Foundation for Monterey County is one; the VIDA project is another. Currently, the collaboration is working with a group at UC Berkeley on pop-up vaccination clinics. Early in the pandemic, groups like COPA, the Monterey County Coalition of Agriculture, the Grower-Shipper Association and others were actively trying to fill in the gaps in the pandemic response.

This type of collaboration is the silver lining of a very destructive pandemic. While Castagna celebrated the partnerships, she was quick to express concern for the future. “We have to ask ourselves what is the next step,” she says. His questions: When all pandemic aid ends, then what will happen to those on the margins? How are we going to help people stay in Monterey County with the high cost of housing? “I wish I had an answer to that,” she said.

If you have a potential answer, I’d love to hear it. And if you or someone you know needs help with housing or utilities, there is money available and more are on the way. Yesterday, the California Department of Housing and Community Development announced that it had received an additional $136 million from the US Treasury to continue the program. Call 211 to find out how to apply.

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