A woman and two little boys sit at a table with cereal bowls. The woman pours milk into one boy’s bowl while the other boy eats.
A woman and two little boys sit at a table with cereal bowls. The woman pours milk into one boy’s bowl while the other boy eats.
June 4, 2020

How housing nonprofits are supporting families during COVID-19

Housing nonprofits like Beyond Housing in St. Louis and LA Family Housing in Los Angeles are continuing to support their clients during the COVID-19 pandemic — while also pivoting their focuses to meet the immediate needs.

Nota del editor: También está disponible una versión en español de esta historia.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Miecho Saffo and her three children had recently settled into their new rental home in St. Louis. Karauthenia Skiles was looking forward to an increase in pay through his apprenticeship program and preparing to move with his wife and children into a new apartment in Los Angeles. Now, because of the pandemic, Saffo has been furloughed from her job of three years and is worried about paying her rent and bills. Skiles’ program has been postponed, delaying his raise, and his wife is out of work.

But thanks to the nonprofits Beyond Housing in St. Louis and LA Family Housing in Los Angeles, Skiles and Saffo are able to support their families in uncertain times. The Wells Fargo Foundation donated $250,000 to Beyond Housing and $150,000 to LA Family Housing to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

A woman in a red blazer smiles at the camera.
Eileen Fitzgerald

The funds are part of the $175 million that Wells Fargo announced in March 2020 it would redirect to help address food, financial security, small business, and housing stability issues worldwide, and to help public health organizations fighting to contain the spread of COVID-19. Since March, Wells Fargo has provided more than 850 grants to help nonprofits provide urgent housing services for vulnerable populations.

“Wells Fargo is committed to the importance of home for everyone in our nation,” said Eileen Fitzgerald, head of housing affordability philanthropy with the Wells Fargo Foundation. “Having a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home is essential to help lay the foundation for wellness, dignity, and economic opportunity. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, as far too many people are facing housing instability, these grants will support hundreds of nonprofit professionals and their organizations whose missions are to keep people in their homes and create opportunities to have a home.”

‘My life has changed because of coronavirus’

As nonprofits like Beyond Housing and LA Family Housing are working to support their clients during the pandemic, many have had to pivot their focuses to meet their clients’ immediate needs.

A man wearing a gray blazer and pink shirt looks at the camera. Behind him is a wooden sign that says: In a world where you can be anything Be Kind.
Chris Krehmeyer

Beyond Housing brings local leaders, nonprofits, corporations, and residents together to provide the infrastructure, support, and resources related to purchasing a home, health, education, jobs, and economic development for the greater St. Louis region. Since the pandemic began, Beyond Housing is continuing its work by staying in contact via phone calls and text messaging with the families it serves, instead of having face-to-face interactions, said Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing.

“Beyond Housing has seen its services shift pretty dramatically since the onslaught of COVID-19,” Krehmeyer said. “We’re doing a tremendous amount of food distribution right now, which is something quite frankly we didn’t do before, but we heard the need immediately from our community. Wells Fargo’s early on and remarkably generous contribution of $250,000 was put to work immediately. The size of that gift and the speed at which Wells Fargo was willing to make those dollars flexible and use it to address the COVID-19 challenges in our community was simply fantastic.”

Krehmeyer said at least 200 of the families were behind in rent for April, so Beyond Housing has allocated money to help with rental assistance, and it’s working with two other local nonprofits to deliver more than 160,000 meals over a 30-day period.

“My life has changed because of coronavirus. It’s a struggle, but through prayer and help from Beyond Housing, I’ll make it.” — Miecho Saffo

Including this recent grant, Wells Fargo has supported Beyond Housing with $400,000 over the last 10 years. “What Beyond Housing is doing in north St. Louis aligns perfectly with Wells Fargo’s philanthropic focus of housing affordability, financial health, and small business growth,” said Tyler Smith, Community Relations senior manager for Wells Fargo in St. Louis. “I’m proud that we’re able to support Beyond Housing and look forward to working with them in the future.”

A man wearing a gray blazer, blue shirt, and glasses smiles at the camera.
Tyler Smith

Beyond Housing has been helping families like Saffo’s, who received help from the nonprofit before the pandemic. Last year, Saffo and her children moved from an apartment with mold and mildew to a new rental home, thanks to help from Beyond Housing.

Things finally seemed to be falling in place, but a few weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Saffo and almost all of her coworkers were furloughed from their employer, a custom bow and sock company. Beyond Housing is helping Saffo’s family and others with utility bills, rental assistance, and food drives.

“My life has changed because of coronavirus,” Saffo said. “It’s a struggle, but through prayer and help from Beyond Housing, I’ll make it.”

‘Our work is dramatically different’

LA Family Housing helps people transition out of homelessness and poverty with housing and support services. The nonprofit typically houses up to 500 families a night in its interim housing, which includes motels and single-family homes. Food insecurity is always prevalent for the families the nonprofit serves, and with more people out of work and school closings, where some children receive several meals, it is even more of a concern, staff for the nonprofit said.

A man in a black blazer and white shirt smiles at the camera.
Gregg Sherkin

With the $150,000 grant from Wells Fargo, LA Family Housing has purchased a hot meal every day for four weeks for each family member living in its motels and other interim sites.

“One of our top priorities is investing in nonprofits who are working to ensure all Los Angeles residents have access to safe and affordable housing,” said Gregg Sherkin, Community Relations senior manager for Wells Fargo in Greater Los Angeles and a board member for the nonprofit. “LA Family Housing provides housing and a path to stability for thousands of families across Los Angeles. With so many people facing economic hardship due to the pandemic, LA Family Housing has ramped up efforts to bring meals and other critical services to the individuals and families they serve, while also expanding to staff and equip new accommodations. Their work is inspirational, and the commitment of their staff and leadership is heroic.”

“I am amazed they’re helping me get in this place during coronavirus. I don’t really ask for a lot of help, but they say to call if we need anything. It’s felt like a pat on the back, like somebody cared.” — Karauthenia Skiles

LA Family Housing has also had to interact differently with the people it serves, using technology to check in, instead of having face-to-face contact. “Wells Fargo has been a great supporter in our work for years, and their continued investment in the infrastructure of our programs and well-being of our participants is another example of that,” said Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of LA Family Housing. “Because of their support, we hope to continue many of the changes made in response to COVID-19 well into the future.”

A man, woman, and two kids pose with their heads together and smile at the camera.
Karauthenia Skiles and his family.

Skiles and his family have been helped by the nonprofit for about a year and a half. His wife has obstructive sleep apnea, but without health insurance, she couldn’t get a diagnosis or help for it. Since Skiles and his family found LA Family Housing, his wife now has a machine for her sleep apnea, improving her health. Skiles also learned about his two-year apprenticeship program, earning money as a union craft laborer in the construction industry, and the family has had a safe place to live.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Skiles’ wife lost her income as a food distributor, and Skiles wasn’t able to participate in his program or receive an increase in pay. The family is currently living in one of LA Family Housing’s sites at a motel. While Skiles said they are grateful for a safe place to live, they are not able to cook at the motel, and meals from local restaurants cost a lot. “I really appreciate the meals LA Family Housing brings,” Skiles said. “In LA, food is expensive. These meals are a blessing.”

The staff at LA Family Housing is also helping Skiles and his family move into an apartment soon. “I am amazed they’re helping me get in this place during coronavirus,” Skiles said. “I don’t really ask for a lot of help, but they say to call if we need anything. It’s felt like a pat on the back, like somebody cared.”

Exterior of a Wells Fargo building with the words Wells Fargo responds to COVID-19 on the left.

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