Vernon Township and other townships across the state were flooded with requests for housing and food assistance when the COVID-19 pandemic began and job loss soared. And Vernon Township Trustee Florence May said there was an obstacle in the way with regard to providing relief.
“Gov. (Eric) Holcomb put in place an executive order that put a moratorium on people being evicted from their homes, and he also put a moratorium on utility disconnects so your water, electricity and gas cannot be shut off right now,” May said. “Normally, people will come to the township when they’re in dire need of assistance for utility payments or for rent or for housing payments, but our legal trigger for being able to provide that is, we have to have an eviction notice or a disconnect notice.
“So, we are in a strange position where our job is to help in dire circumstances but the state put into place other programs where people can go.”
The moratorium on evictions ended at the end of July, and the moratorium on utility disconnects expires Aug. 15.
May said when that happens, the township expects a flood of requests from the community.
“We expect when the dam breaks, we are going to be very, very busy,” she said.
Although Vernon Township couldn’t assist all of those in need, it did provide resources to those who needed assistance during the pandemic.
“Throughout this entire timeframe, beginning in March when all of this started and people were being laid off and furloughed, the calls started coming in with people asking what we are able to do and that they had difficulty paying mortgage, rent, whatever it might be,” Vernon Township Community Engagement Coordinator Stacy Nielsen said. “We kind of created a checklist of things we wanted people to know about, like when the federal stimulus money was released (and) links to file for unemployment on our website.
“We did a program in June where we included a flier in all the bags that went out for the food pantry with a list of resources and how to get access.”
The idea was that people visiting food pantries were likely the same people contacting the township for assistance with rent or utilities. Consequently, local food pantries also were flooded.
“Our food pantry meets every Tuesday from 1 to 3 (p.m.) and is open to hand out food,” Fortville Christian Church Food Pantry Director Erin Flick said. “We had been averaging about 55 people in January, February and March every week, and by the fourth Tuesday in March, we had 130 people coming. That was about our biggest. It’s stayed pretty steady with 120 to 130 people through April, and in June we averaged more like 115.”
Gleaners Food Bank’s mobile food pantry visits the Fortville area once a month. During the April and May visits, nearly 400 people attended.
May said the township is utilizing food pantry attendance to project how busy the township will become when the moratorium sunsets.
“That’s what we are gauging as what we suspect the need is going to be when the moratoriums end,” May said.
Vernon Township has limits on how much it can help those in need of funds for mortgage or rent assistance.
The township raised its limits for rent and mortgage assistance in 2020 after conducting an assessment and realizing it wasn’t meeting peoples’ needs, even before the coronavirus pandemic.
“The goal of township assistance is to keep someone’s utilities from being disconnected and to keep them from losing their home and becoming homeless,” Community Engagement Coordinator Stacy Nielsen said.
For more, visit vernontownship.us.