As the novel coronavirus whips across the Bay Area, forcing businesses to shutter and workers to stay home, many low-income residents living on the edge are being put at risk. Without regular wages, workers paid by the hour could be hit especially hard by a coronavirus-induced economic recession.
What's the solution? In Menlo Park, one answer comes in the form of a $112,000 fund recently earmarked by the city to support low-income residents in need.
At its meeting on March 10, the City Council voted to devote the six-figure fund to the easing of economic hardships coming like a tidal wave toward low-income residents whose work is curtailed or disappears entirely during the public health crisis.
While the fund had originally been set up last year as a tenant relocation assistance program, the mounting coronavirus crisis forced the council to see the fund through a new lens. During the meeting Councilman Ray Mueller said, "We have this fund already set aside, and I think people are going to need it."
These funds will be at the fingertips of the local nonprofit Samaritan House, which will be able to use the cash reserve for Menlo Park residents who have had the financial rug pulled out from under them.
According to Samaritan House CEO Bart Charlow, the city chose to facilitate the funds through the nonprofit organization because Samaritan House is well set up for it. "The city of Menlo Park knew we already had the infrastructure in place, so they sat down with us and worked out an agreement," he said.
How to get help
Charlow explained that Samaritan House doesn't give cash directly to residents. Instead, once someone has established his or her need with a Samaritan House case manager, the nonprofit pays the entity that the resident owes money to — such as a landlord or PG&E. "We don't hand people a direct check; we help them pay their bills," Charlow explained.
He noted that the funds from the city administered by the Samaritan House are not meant to supplant other available sources of economic aid, such as unemployment benefits from the state. "This would be something on top of those funds, if your situation is dire," he said.
So what's the process for getting economic aid from this program? Menlo Park residents should start by calling the nonprofit's south office at 650-294-4312, Barlow said. Callers will talk to a case manager, who will direct them from there. For now, like many workplaces, the organization is trying to help people remotely.
Despite the stress on Samaritan House's resources at the moment, Barlow expressed assurance that the nonprofit could rise to the occasion. "We have a nimble system," he said. "Even though we are having to go through many of the same precautions as other places to keep safe, we are bringing all of our resources to bear."
The City Council had approved the arrangement with Samaritan House in March 2019 for an assistance program that would ease burdens on tenants dislocated from their homes.
Latrice Taylor, Samaritan House's assistant director for programs and services, updated the council on that trial program at its March 10 meeting. She explained that the four-decade-old nonprofit serves all of San Mateo County, with a focus on low-income residents. Free services provided by Samaritan House include shelter and housing assistance; medical and dental clinics; clothes for children; personalized case management and others.
The Samaritan House's south office is located at 1852 Bay Road in East Palo Alto, and can be reached at 650-294-4312.