The following article was written by David Brightbill, Dawn Rauch, and Carrie McNamee of Washington-Morgan Counties Community Action. It was printed in The Marietta Times weekend edition, April 25-26, 2020.

Homelessness, even in the best of times– months before COVID19, was a significant problem in Washington County. The high cost of housing– especially rental housing– prevelance of substance abuse disorder, numerous less-than-living wage jobs are all issues that significantly impact people and housing. Washington-Morgan Counties Community Action has been helping our community overcome these challenges for years. Homelessness in a rural area like ours is significantly different from urban homelessness. We very seldom see people living on the street or hanging out in front of shelters (our community doesn’t have any homeless shelters). Yes, there are people living in tents in the woods and in abandoned houses and in cars. Those situations exist for a variety of reasons, some financial, some mental health or addiction, and somtimes a lifestyle choice; all of which are important and in need of attention.

Rural homelessness most often is much less obvious than urban homelessness. Rural homelesses is often called “couch surfing.” For example, an individual experinecing rural homelessness might live with my friend for awhile, then is asked to move on, so they go live with their sister for a couple of weeks. Eventually, yet again they are asked to move on– this is the cycle. Because it is much less visible, some leaders in the State housing agencies do not see it as a priority. In Washington County, couch surfing has been on the rise with many families moving from house to house in order to avoid living on the streets.

The recently passed CARES Act provides protections for renters to ensure they do not become homeless during this pandemic. The CARES Act operates by restricting lessors or covered properties from filing new eviction actions for nonpayment of rent or other fees or charges, and also prohibits charging fees, penalties, or other charges to the tenant related to such nonpayment of rent. The Moratorium is in effect for 120 days from March 27, 2020 and applies to the following types of federal projects: housing covered by the VAWA act, which includes Public Housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 project-based housing, Rural Development, LIHTC housing. Other programs not not commonly seen in our area including housing using rural housing voucher program or housing in which the owner has a federally-backed mortgage loan or a private laon that is federall insured.

Washington Morgan Community Action is committed to ensuring that low- and moderate-income individuals and families are connected to resources to obtain or remain in stable housing during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.  Individuals and families who require housing assistance are encouraged to call Washington Morgan Counties Community Action at 740-373-3745 to inquire about programs for which they may be eligible.

In addition to the CARES Act programs, Washington Morgan Community Action also operates two homeless programs in Washington County: the Homeless Crisis Response Program (HCRP) and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF). These programs provide assistance to individuals and families who are homeless (Rapid Rehousing) or at-risk of becoming homeless (Homeless Prevention). Participants are provided case management and short-term financial assistance to move them to stable housing or to stabilize their current housing situation. To be eligible for Rapid Rehousing, participants must met HUD’s definition of homelessness. To be eligible for Homeless Prevention, participants must be at immediate risk of homeless and have a household income at or below 30% of the area’s median income for HCRP and 50% for SSVF. To qualify for SSVF the applicant must be a Veteran with a Certificate of Release or Dicharge from Active Duty (DD214).

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HCRP providers have been awarded additional funding from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA). Region 8, consisting of Washington, Morgan and Muskingum Counties, was awarded $64,584.90. The purpose of the OHFA funding is to supplement local HP and RRH efforts to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 and to prevent evictions and/or housing loss due to non-payment of rent caused by COVID-19 related decline in income, wage reduction, job loss, health challenges or similar circumstances. Funds may be used to assist participants with rental assistance and security deposits. On a very limited basis, funds may be used for hotel or motel stays for high-risk individuals. Eligible high-risk individuals include seniors aged 60 and older, individuals with underlying pre-existing conditions and pregnant women. Homeless individuals or those facing homelessness are encouraged to contact (call if possible) Washington Morgan Community Action to discuss the programs and eligibility requirements.

We know that our communities are currently facing challenging times due to this pandmic and hope that by taking advantage of our programs there is light at the end of the tunnel. For more information, please contact Washington-Morgan Community Action at 740-373-3745, or visit our website at wmcap.org.