Housing insecurity and homelessness continue to be a challenge for many individuals and families in Yolo County with the pandemic further exacerbating the problem.  It can be particularly challenging as an individual or family transitions from an emergency shelter to home life after experiencing a traumatic or violent situation.  Empower Yolo’s housing program has expanded and continues to assist clients with various housing needs. 
“Housing insecurity was already a growing problem and it continues to be challenging for many of our clients, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic,” says Niomi Michel, Empower Yolo Homeless Coordinator. 
Empower Yolo’s housing program has grown in the last five years to include more support for the homeless and more recently rent relief due to COVID-19 hardships. In 2020 Empower Yolo served 520 people by providing rental assistance and housing support. 
Many people are not aware of how many housing services Empower Yolo provides the community from transitional housing for clients moving out of our shelters to helping homeless clients, and a new partnership with the State of California for rent relief: 
Transitional housing services – for domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking victims Empower Yolo provides case management, financial assistance, gas cards, and food referrals. 
Rapid Re-Housing – for homeless clients Empower Yolo can provide financial assistance for the cost of a new unit (first month’s rent and/or deposit), six months to one-year case management, furniture donations, household goods, hygiene products and food.  
Project Roomkey (PRK) – a state/county program aimed at decreasing the spread of COVID-19 by providing shelter to people experiencing homelessness and who are vulnerable/high risk to COVID-19. Although the program for Woodland participants ended June 30, Empower Yolo continues to provide case management to participants. Empower Yolo can assist with rental application fees, financial assistance for new units, case management, furniture donations, hygiene products and food. 
California COVID-19 Rent Relief ProgramEmpower Yolo is a community partner in this state program, which provides financial assistance for unpaid and/or future rent and utilities to income-eligible renters and their landlords due to COVID-19 related hardships. Empower Yolo is assisting both landlords and tenants with applications for this program for rent and utilities, both for past due and future payments. Empower Yolo does not determine eligibility for anyone, but housing advocates can answer questions and provide support as needed in applying for the program. Once an application is submitted advocates have no further access to the application or approval status. For general information and to determine eligibility visit: housingiskey.com. To schedule an appointment for assistance at Empower Yolo contact (530) 665-5303.  
Shores of Hope and the Yolo County Children’s Alliance in West Sacramento are two other local organizations that are also providing assistance for people who need help with their rent relief applications.
Since the pandemic many more challenges have arisen for housing clients. High rent is especially problematic. “The challenges many clients face are that they are on a fixed income and rent has gone up, even doubled in the last two years; clients can no longer afford to pay this high rent now,” says Michel. 
Housing advocates are finding rooms to rent anywhere from $700-900, but the minimum Social Security Income today is about $954 a month; there are not enough income based units or studios for these clients.  
Our most significant challenge continues to be the lack of affordable rentals in Yolo County. “Clients in Yolo County are having a hard time finding affordable housing,” says Brenda Wheeler, Empower Yolo Steps to Success Housing Specialist. “Income based apartments have a waitlist of one to three years. One-bedroom apartments on average are going for about $1,400 a month. I’ve had single clients who can’t afford to pay that on their own because they only work 40 hours a week at $14/hour which is a gross income of $2,240 a month; when you subtract taxes and all their other bills they are left with maybe $1,400 even less.  There’s just not enough to cover other needs once basic necessities such as gas, groceries, clothes for their kids, and daycare expenses are factored in. Housing is through the roof with how high rent is and keeps going up,” says Wheeler. 
Loss of jobs, reduced hours and loss of income are all part of the housing insecurity cycle. “Lost and reduced income has worsened already difficult situations for many clients in addition to potential loss of health insurance and less household income due to unemployment,” says Michel. “Rents are being raised and clients can’t even catch up with back rent owed, that’s why the state’s rent relief program is so important,” Michel said.   
Through the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program, California has recently increased rental assistance payments to 100% of unpaid rent, making landlords whole and keeping tenants housed. Payments are for unpaid and future rent payments for California income-eligible renters and their landlords affected by COVID-19. Critical eviction protections have also been extended through September 30, 2021, to help keep Californians housed. If you need help paying past due or upcoming rent or utilities, you may be eligible for assistance. For more information visit: empoweryolo.org or contact (530) 665-5303. 
The community can help by calling and writing local and state politicians, and even posting about the importance and need for more affordable housing and tiny homes. Community members can also donate gift cards to Walmart for clients to purchase essential items they need. We can always use household items new or gently used, hygiene products, and “rooms to go” i.e. anything you would need for a kitchen, bedroom, and/or bathroom.
As we move through the pandemic together, let us not forget our homeless neighbors and community members who are struggling with housing insecurity and keeping their families safe and housed.                                                                                                                                 
To learn more about Empower Yolo, or to donate to our housing program any time visit: empoweryolo.org. 
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