McKean County winters can be brutal.
That’s why this year, for the sixth year in a row, the Warm It Forward outreach will provide the small comfort of warm winter accessories for anyone who needs them.
Lee Alevy shared information on this year’s program on behalf of the McKean County Housing Coalition.
Alevy explained that, for all of January — Warm It Forward month — “neighbors are helping neighbors throughout the county by hanging clotheslines and placing hats, gloves, mittens, and a resource card on the line.”
Past participants have included businesses and churches, but this year, the coalition invites anyone to hang a clothesline, Alevy noted.
The Rev. Rob Klouw, co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Bradford, talked about the program’s beginnings.
“The McKean County Housing Coalition started ‘Warm it Forward’ several years ago,” he said. “As a group of human service, county government and faith-based organizations, they care about and advocate for affordable housing options for all McKean County households. Many families faced eviction and homelessness before the pandemic, and a new wave of evictions will create a potential crisis in the coming weeks.”
The program is a reminder that homelessness exists in this rural area, but, according to Klouw, it is also a reminder that there is help available.
“We recognize the tremendous pain and economic uncertainty that the COVID pandemic has brought to our community,” he said. “We pray that the visual of clotheslines across McKean County not only bring warm weather clothes to those in need but also a needed boost of hope.”
According to Alevy, the number of families without safe, secure housing may increase this month, as a COVID-19-related moratorium on evictions is set to expire.
“As the pandemic has gotten worse, so has the financial situation of many families,” Alevy added. “According to one census estimate, 12 million renter households will face eviction, and they currently owe an average of $5,000 in rent. The moratorium helped many area families during 2020. It kept people in their homes and ensured a space for quarantining when needed. However, the timing of the order’s expiration comes at a time when new cases of COVID have reached an all-time high, and the community has limited resources in which to absorb the crisis.”
Dan Wertz, McKean County human services director, knows the importance of keeping families housed.
“Housing is key. It ensures a solid foundation for kids to grow up healthy,” he said. “Human Service agencies do not have the capacity to stave off all evictions, but we are here to help advocate for and protect families with the resources we do have.”
Wertz provided this advice to families: “Work with your landlords and utility companies. Pay down your bills. Reach out when in crisis and call the numbers on the resource card.”
YWCA Bradford has an emergency shelter on West Corydon Street. However, YWCA Executive Director Vanessa Castano explained that space at the shelter was already an issue before COVID-19 hit.
“Lack of affordable housing and homeless shelter space was a significant problem pre-pandemic. We are seeing more homeless, more extended stays in the shelters, and issuing more hotel vouchers than ever before,” she said.
CARES Act funding has helped, but “until there are more options for affordable housing, the human service community will not be able to handle new influx of homeless when the eviction moratorium ends.”
Any steps residents can take to prevent eviction can help alleviate a sudden influx of people needing resources at once.
“While community organizations can help connect households to resources, they cannot pay large bills that have accumulated during the pandemic,” Alevy explained. “Renters are asked to take steps in preventing eviction.”
The Housing Authority provided these tips from the Housing Coalition for renters who face eviction:
• Be in touch with your landlord and utility companies to let them know you are
trying to pay down what you owe.
• Pay your balance down as much as possible.
• Ask utility companies about payment plans.
• Remember, any payment, even little amounts, are better than ignoring payment.
• Reach out to community resources to see if they can help.