Issues of hunger and homelessness have been a growing problem around the country and in Yolo County. The economic after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified food and housing insecurity for many more community members.
According to the most recent census data 18.5% of Yolo County residents live below the federal poverty line. Hunger and homelessness are symptoms of poverty. Many families have serious health consequences when their low wages or modest public benefits can’t cover the cost of housing, utilities and food (see nourishca.org).
“Empower Yolo is just one agency that is part of the social safety net in Yolo County. The Homeless and Poverty Action Coalition is made up of nonprofits, city and county government representatives that are all working in a coordinated effort to address homelessness.” says Lynnette Irlmeier, executive director, Empower Yolo, and board member of HPAC.
Empower Yolo provides services to help support clients experiencing food and housing insecurity.
Housing Services: In 2020, Empower Yolo provided 520 people rental assistance and housing support. The experience of homelessness can vary from person to person, and homelessness is different to every person experiencing it. Some people could be chronically homeless (homeless for more than a year), or just experiencing homelessness temporarily. People can experience homelessness but are “sheltered” if they are able to stay in homeless shelters or transitional housing. “Unsheltered” people are those living on the street.
“We know that housing is healthcare,” said Irlmeier. “The life expectancy for unsheltered individuals is significantly lower than those who are housed.” To combat homelessness, Empower Yolo offers a variety of housing services to clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
Empower Yolo recently revamped its housing department to meet the increase in need for housing services. The housing team is focused on program collaboration and wrap-around housing advocacy for Yolo County residents fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, experiencing homelessness, and those affected by COVID-19. Housing advocates provide case management and emotional support during the process of assisting clients in finding and maintaining permanent housing.
Case management services include: advocacy, peer counseling, housing searches and application assistance; making calls to landlords, financial coaching, creating budgets, assisting in credit repair, financial literacy, direct financial support for application fees, rent and security deposit assistance, move-in assistance and household goods, and other housing related resources. Housing advocates are available to provide application assistance for tenants and landlords eligible to apply for the California COVID-19 Rent Relief program. The state program provides assistance for unpaid and/or future rent and utilities due to COVID-19 related hardships.
Through continued collaboration with Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), many clients have met with attorneys who have assisted in negotiating payment plans for outstanding evictions and helped clients with credit repair. In partnership with LSNC Empower Yolo is hosting Renter’s Academy to help the community with questions about rental housing, past evictions, improving your credit, or overcoming barriers to employment or housing. They are providing free sessions via zoom; the next session on overcoming barriers for stability is coming up November 10. For questions or to register, call (530) 662-1065.
“For shelter clients, housing advocates help survivors move from the shelter to permanent housing by working closely together to assess their needs and create case plans and establish goals that help promote a client’s self-esteem and confidence, and reinforce life skills and success,” says Lorena Palomar, housing director, Empower Yolo. Staff provides clients help with financial coaching, creating budgets and assisting in credit repair. When clients are ready to secure housing, staff will provide a housing list and help with housing searches, rental application assistance and advocating on their behalf by providing letters of support and making calls to landlords.
“The lack of affordable housing continues to be a barrier for our homeless clients,” says Palomar. In addition, advocates emphasize housing needs to be accompanied with supportive services. “Empower Yolo advocates assist many unhoused families by providing them with the resources and skills they need to obtain and maintain permanent housing. Once housed, advocates assist with maintaining permanent housing with continued support,” says Palomar.
Empower Yolo was also a partner with Project Room Key, 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. Advocates continue to provide case management for many of those participants.
Our community can help support unhoused clients by providing financial donations for application fees and holding deposits, by supporting “rooms to go” drives, donating hygiene products, and grocery gift cards.
Food Insecurity: Food insecurity continues to rise in our region according to CapRadio’s and Valley Vision’s October 2021 Food System Resilience Poll. See a few highlights from the poll:
- 16% of respondents self-reported that they have low/very low food security.
- Nationally, the USDA reported that 10.5 percent of U.S. households had low/very low food security at some time during 2020.
- ¼ of respondents participated in some kind of food assistance program (FAP) in the last 12 months.
- Almost half of respondents (47%) used a portion of their stimulus money to buy groceries or food that they could not otherwise afford.
- Those who are younger were more likely to self-report low/very low food security and more likely to participate in FAPs.
- Those with children in the household were also more likely to participate in FAPs (41% versus 15%).
- Households in the region with children were more likely to use part of their stimulus check for food and groceries than those without (66% versus 36%).
- Communities of color are more likely than their white counterparts to obtain their food from food banks, food pantries, and convenience stores. This is consistent with data at the national level. Data from Feeding America found that both Black and Latino communities are more vulnerable to hunger, particularly during the pandemic. (For more information see the full report at: https://www.valleyvision.org/resources/the-food-system-resilience-poll-october-2021/.
Food Distribution: Empower Yolo continues to provide weekly food distribution in partnership with the Yolo Food Bank in Davis, Knights Landing and the town of Yolo. In 2020, Davis provided food for 2,657 clients; Knights Landing provided food for 3,060 clients; and Yolo provided food for 2,556 clients.
Other Services: One of Empower Yolo’s largest services is its clothing closet, which is open to the community and shelter clients. In 2020, 1,061 clients used the clothing closet 2,649 times. Empower Yolo also provides hygiene items (shampoo, body wash, deodorant, etc.) to clients in need.
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness: Empower Yolo will host its first Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week November 13-21 to raise awareness for the problems of hunger and homelessness through educational, service, fundraising and advocacy events. Events will include the following: a donation drive for non-perishable foods and hygiene items; on Wednesday, November 17, 12 noon – 1 p.m. Lynnette Irlmeier, executive director of Empower Yolo along with the executive directors of the Yolo Food Bank and Fourth & Hope will be on a panel hosted by UC Davis law students discussing Poverty in Yolo County. For more information about our awareness week events, and how you can help support those experiencing food and housing insecurity visit: empoweryolo.org.
“What’s most important is treating our neighbors experiencing food and housing insecurity with respect and kindness as we work together as a community to address the lack of affordable housing and the underlying issues that lead to hunger and homelessness,” says Irlmeier.