Local organizations set their sights on long-term COVID-19 needs

While Michigan has experienced a surge in unemployment claims over the last couple of months, there is the worry that the need for assistance will increase once restrictions are lifted on mortgage, rent and utility deferments.  

Long term, United Way of Midland County and 211 of Northeast Michigan are anticipating increased uncertainty around the viability of nonprofits and childcare providers, an expansion of the ALICE population, an increase in cases of domestic violence, abuse and neglect and the need for mental health support among other needs. With rent and some bills delayed at the moment, they have reported people actually aren’t calling 211 for help with the same frequency.

Currently, 23 percent of the households in Midland County fall into the ALICE population and 11 percent are in poverty.

“Our region has done an outstanding job of coming together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve witnessed our community spring into action, from volunteering to feed families and children, to investing in COVID-19 relief funds, as many organizations worked together to help fill the short-term gaps and demand for resources and critical supplies,” says Holly Miller, Executive Director of United Way of Midland County. “We now look toward recovery and are anticipating how we support the potential challenges we’ll face as we begin to stand back up. We are focused on how we can work together to ensure we are prepared the meet the diverse wave of need we see coming.”

United Way of Midland County and 211 of Northeast Michigan are two of the organizations helping tackle the long-term needs of people impacted by COVID-19. Helping over 1 million people across 23 counties, 211 of Northeast Michigan has experienced a drop in calls recently, but the organization expects a surge of demand is coming.

“Most of our services depend on what county you live in, so our first question when people call is ‘what is your zip code?’, from there, we determine what programs and assistance they qualify for,” says Shirley Southworth, marketing coordinator and certified resource specialist with 211 of Northeast Michigan.

One of the biggest hurdles for people seems to be the first step.

“We try to help people realize that it’s ok to ask for help,” says Southworth. “So many people are experiencing difficulties and are asking for help for the first time right now.”

When inquires come in, 211 directs people to resources that can help, whether that is locally available masks like those provided by United Way of Midland County, to free emergency boxes of food like the ones provided by the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, to assistance from The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) for utility assistance for essential workers meeting income requirements.  

“We have seen a decrease in requests and people reaching out to our contact line, says Sarah Kile, Executive Director of 211 Northeast Michigan. “With evictions currently on hold as well as temporary holds on utility payment lapses, we know that volume will increase again, we’re just not sure when it will happen.”

In the interim, 211 of Northeast Michigan has spent time on updating their database of support and resources, completed quality training, and worked on bringing additional volunteers up to speed on services. There is also statewide planning in the works for 211 throughout Michigan.

“We thought we would see another surge happen at the beginning of June, but so much of it depends on how Governor Whitmer is planning for the state to ramp up,” says Kile.

“It takes a strength to admit you can’t do it alone. We want to let people know it’s ok to ask for help in times of need,” says Kile. “And one of the nice things about 211 is that It’s confidential. We are available to call or text 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So, people can find a time that works for them.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can access resources from 211 of Northeast Michigan at https://www.211nemichigan.org/.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.