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Collaboration between public and nonprofit agencies is the silver lining of a very destructive pandemic.

Farmworkers attend a presentation about Covid-19 vaccines

Farmworkers attend a presentation about Covid-19 vaccines at Taylor Farms in Gonzales on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. This was an informational session by Hartnell nursing students.

Pam Marino here, thinking about the phrase we heard often early in the Covid-19 pandemic: “We’re all in this together.”

A cover story I wrote in November 2020 basically pointed out that no, we’re not. The racial and economic inequities that exist leave many to suffer the ravages of the virus more severely than others. Then it laid out that because the state was insisting that the only way out of shelter-in-place for each county was by focusing on overcoming the inequities, we had to be in it together.

(Today I revisited that story, as well as a newsletter intro I wrote the same week that stated we would all have to work together to “get out of the Purple Tier.” It’s incredible how dated that feels—like it happened a decade ago.)

In last week’s print edition of the Weekly, I reported on the $94,000 now available through Goodwill Central Coast for those people who for various reasons didn’t quite qualify for the Covid-19-related emergency rental assistance program (or ERAP) and utility assistance that’s been available since March of last year.

While about 8,000 Monterey County households did qualify for $46 million in emergency assistance, there were an unknown number of other households who couldn’t quite make the cut. Either their combined income was just over the low income limit or maybe they couldn’t prove their rental situation. (Think someone renting a room in a house off the books. No rental contract, no assistance.)

To help people in those situations, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors last fall approved $150,000 to support “housing permanency.” It doesn’t go directly for rent but it does go to covering expenses that land families in the situation of deciding between paying rent or paying for some other necessary expense that might cause them to lose housing. Fixing the car so one can get to work is just one example. 

As it did with ERAP and utility assistance last year, the county turned to United Way Monterey County to distribute the housing permanency funds between March and June. United Way in turn appointed Goodwill to distribute $94,000. (Gathering for Women is distributing the rest.) It’s a model (disseminating government money to a contracting organization like United Way, which then relies on a number of smaller community nonprofits) that has proven effective during the pandemic, at least here in Monterey County, says United Way CEO Katy Castagna.

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I asked Castagna about the lessons learned from the experience. First and foremost, she says, they were able to ramp up the distribution of money because of the partnership between public and nonprofit agencies working together. “No one agency could have done this,” she says.

“Organizations have really stretched and worked collaboratively to a scale we haven’t done before,” she says. “We’ve proved to be a very responsive and adaptive community focused on making sure people aren’t left behind.” 

There are examples of this throughout the pandemic in our county. The Covid-19 Collaborative through the Community Foundation for Monterey County is one; the VIDA Project is another. Currently the Collaborative is working with a group out of UC Berkeley on pop-up vaccination clinics. In the early days of the pandemic, groups like COPA, the Monterey County Coalition of Agriculture, the Grower-Shipper Association and others were actively trying to fill in the gaps of the pandemic response.

This kind of collaboration is the silver lining of a very destructive pandemic. While Castagna celebrated the partnerships, she was quick to express a concern for the future. “We have to ask what’s next,” she says. Her questions: When all the pandemic aid comes to an end, what will happen to those on the margins then? How will we help people stay in Monterey County with the high cost of housing? “I wish I had an answer to that,” she says.

If you’ve got a potential answer, I’d like to hear it. And if you or someone you know needs housing or utility assistance, there’s still money available and more is on the way. Yesterday the California Department of Housing and Community Development announced that it received an additional $136 million from the U.S. Treasury to continue the program. Call 211 to learn how to apply.

Read full newsletter here.

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