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Hoosier Action Executive Director Kate Hess Pace is pictured with State Sen. Ron Grooms (R-Jeffersonville) during a February meeting.

SOUTHERN INDIANA — A group of Southern Indiana residents are banning together to discuss how those experiencing homelessness and poverty are being affected by COVID-19, and looking at resources to help.

More than a dozen community members from Clark and Floyd counties attended a virtual meeting Wednesday held by Hoosier Action, a grassroots group which seeks to unite people in addressing issues affecting Indiana residents.

The discussion centered around addressing what’s needed to help those in poverty or without permanent housing during and after this pandemic, Hoosier Action Executive Director Kate Hess Pace said. This included addressing the lack of resources for the homeless community, shortage in coordinated emergency food service programs, ensuring children are safe and fed while school is out and protection against eviction. They’ll meet again next in smaller groups to hone their focus on issues.

“We are really facing duel crisis,” Hess Pace said. “One with the actual pandemic and making sure people are staying safe and the other [being] just how many people are not getting the economic support that they need?”

She said the affects of the pandemic — business closures and layoffs, health concerns and lack of childcare may have a more profound impact on lower-income residents.

“So if they were already on the edge of the cliff this has really pushed a lot of people off over it,” she said. “People who have been laid off, people who are trying to file for unemployment and not hearing back yet or [not] getting any financial compensation yet.”

Although the more than $2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump in March has meant one-time relief sums of $1,200 or more for many Americans, those who need it most may not even be able to access the funds.

“The bulk of people who did not receive the stimulus are low-income Hoosiers, particularly if they made such little money that they didn’t file taxes or they’re just not in the system,” Hess Pace said. “They’re the ones that are missing that level of support.”

Barb Anderson, executive director at Haven House Services, Inc. in Southern Indiana, attended the virtual meeting and said it’s a good start to uniting more people to advocate for those in need in the community.

“I think now is ripe for organizing in this area, not just for homeless and housing but for poverty issues period,” Anderson said.

She said funds being funneled into all states to aid vulnerable populations due to coronavirus can be used to help put things in place such as homeless prevention programs, programs much needed due to the job loss and eventual evictions from the pandemic. Although there are protections in place right now to prevent evictions from rental properties, that will expire and renters could be faced with months’ worth of rent they can’t pay all at once.

And utilities are the same — they’re not being shut off right now, but there will be a day come soon when they are due in full.

Anderson said she expects that if nothing changes, homelessness could rise by threefold or more.

“We’re going to see a whole new kind of homelessness, one that we’ve never seen before,” she said. “And that’s working poor that never have experienced this. They’ve always been able to keep their rent paid, they maybe have just barely been getting by but they’re there now.”

She said Indiana Housing & Community Development Assistance, which aids in getting housing, has been allotted a yearly all-time high of $5 million over the past two or three years. But they’re expected to get $18 million to aid Hoosiers just in the first installment this year due to the federal aid, Anderson said. That money could go a long way in fighting poverty in Southern Indiana, a place Anderson said has been overlooked before when funds are distributed throughout the state.

“Right now we have got to be very proactive,” she said. “There’s no reason to allow people to become homeless. We know now that all of the evictions that are about to take place.

“If we don’t use this as an opportunity, then we’re stupid. We’ve got to use it as an opportunity.”

Anderson said she knows COVID-19 has changed things, many of them permanent. But people have to learn from the lessons they’ve been taught during it to move toward a better future.

“We have to start looking at things differently,” she said. “There are a lot of lessons. I hope we learn them well and remember them well.”

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