Our COVID-19 Response
June 2021: With New Jersey’s re-opening well underway, we’re now comfortable in moving away from responding to COVID-related crises and on to more forward-looking initiatives that will support the refugee families that are already here as well as those expected to soon arrive. We are anticipating a shift in approach to how refugees are resettled in this country, with more emphasis on a community sponsorship model, and we are building the infrastructure necessary for RAP to take a leading role in that effort.
Our tutoring/ESL services have always been a very large part of our mission of service to the refugee families and we didn’t miss a beat throughout the pandemic. Our committed and industrious volunteers took on the challenge of providing individualized tutoring via Zoom and other online platforms – oftentimes involving a steep learning curve for both teacher and student alike. Our cadre of 22 volunteer tutors maintained a consistent level of involvement throughout the school year with 21 students (children and adults) from 16 different families.
Perhaps the most serious challenge confronting our refugee families during the pandemic was the threat of eviction due to missed rent payments. While some families maintained their employment throughout, others suffered from prolonged unemployment, reduction in hours, and/or ill health, causing them to miss one or more payments. Although the state-imposed eviction moratorium meant they could not be forced out of their homes, the back rent would continue to accrue and landlords could file a court record of their intention to evict, all of which could irreparably damage their credit.
We are extremely grateful to the generous individual donors, foundations and houses of worship that allowed us to direct $22,000 in rent relief to 11 different families. This support was offered to help our families achieve and maintain self-sufficiency going forward and included assistance in negotiating with landlords, seeking more suitable employment, and finding more affordable housing where necessary.
Here are a few examples (names have been changed upon request):
Monika and her family are originally from Cuba. Last year, her husband suffered an injury on the job. When his workers compensation payments ended before he was able to work again, Monika was left supporting her family on a single meager income.
During the pandemic, Monika took a reduction in pay to stay employed. The family accumulated a very high level of rental debt. After a series of negotiations with the current landlord, we were able to have all fees removed so that we only had to deal with past due rent. The landlord also agreed not to proceed with an eviction or termination of her lease at this time. We were very thankful for that, as was Monika!
Currently, RAP has some money in reserve which will be applied to a security deposit and first month's rent for a less expensive apartment, once Monika finds something suitable for her family. Monika also has pending applications for aid with a number of other community helping resources.
Valeria and her husband, originally from Colombia, faced sudden medical crises at the same time. Valeria’s husband suffered a stroke at the end of 2020. Shortly after, Valeria fell and required surgery. In the three months that followed, all their savings were depleted and their temporary disability payments ended. They also faced numerous barriers to accessing appropriate medical care and were unable to get proper care for their conditions for several months.
RAP used emergency rent relief funds to get them caught up with rent. We also formed a family care team to help reestablish their connection to appropriate medical care. This team also facilitated renewing their disability benefits and guided Valeria through the initial steps of getting additional aid from county-based services.
Joseph leads a family of six, originally from Sudan. He and his adult daughter are the breadwinners for the family and maintained their employment throughout the pandemic. However, they were in an unsustainable position as their minimum wage incomes could not cover the rent on the three-bedroom apartment. With higher wage jobs difficult to find in the pandemic, they fell several months behind in their rent.
RAP got them caught up, yet we recognized that they would inevitably fall back into debt. To break that cycle, we are working with a family friend of Joseph’s in another state, which offers much lower housing costs and higher wages. Because we were able to help them avoid current housing debt, their credit is preserved and they will be able to eventually secure an apartment out of state. We are actively preparing this family for their happy transition to a sustainable living situation.