For the entire month of March 2020, United Way of Greenville County’s resource phone line received 951 calls from people needing assistance with rent, utilities, groceries and other resources.
In just the first week of December alone, that number has gone up to 5,044 calls.
“These are individuals or families who were one paycheck away from real need, and now that they’ve been negatively impacted by COVID, we are getting a significant number of calls from those who have been notified that they will get evicted after Christmas if they don’t pay their rent,” said Meghan Barp, CEO of United Way of Greenville County. “I’m really concerned about what I’m thinking will be a tidal wave of potential evictions.”
Those facing financial turmoil were offered some temporary relief back in September, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the unprecedented move of announcing a nationwide ban on evictions through the end of 2020, citing the “historic threat to public health” wrought by the pandemic.
But with that moratorium set to expire at the end of the year, thousands of Greenville residents are now entering the Christmas holiday season with a ticking clock looming over their heads. Those facing eviction will not just have to pay that month’s rent; they’ll have to pay all the back rent they may have missed — otherwise they have no recourse to avoid eviction.
Adding to that stress, the CARES Act funds that organizations like United Way of Greenville have been reliant upon to support those in need also expire at the end of the year, and with Congress still gridlocked, it remains to be seen if any further assistance will be offered.
This all comes as the need in the county, which remained relatively steady during the summer, has risen significantly in the last few months. The United Way of Greenville County resource line in particular paints a bleak picture. The line received 1,501 calls in September, 3,254 in October and 9,805 in November, and December is on track to be even higher.
That means more and more families will soon be entering into what Greenville resident Doris Young calls “the whole invisible community” of Greenville’s homeless residents.
Young now works as an online entrepreneur, with a new line of clothing and art called SOFIE set to launch in the coming weeks, but for roughly nine months last year, she and her domestic partner were homeless after their apartment building in the Woodside area was condemned by the city.
“We had just three days to clear out, and when you don’t have a family or any connections, what are you supposed to do?” Young said.
As far as Young knew, she and her partner were doing everything right: paying their rent on time, not missing any bills. But they found themselves living in a tent in a community of homeless individuals out in the woods, a place she describes as “off the railroad tracks in an abandoned warehouse spot.”
“You’d be amazed at how people who are in this situation pull together to help each other survive,” she said. “That community taught us a lot: where to eat, places to avoid, how to stay safe, all of them keeping watch over each other’s well-being.”
Young eventually found assistance through the Housing Connection, but she still visits the homeless communities frequently to offer food and assistance however she can.
Recently, she said that community has gotten noticeably larger.
“In the last series of months, there have been an extreme number of new faces,” Young said. “I’ve never seen anything like this myself. But so many people are in this fairytale land that has them thinking as long as they can make it, then everything is okay. But that’s not a lot of people’s reality.”
While there are many individuals in the homeless community who deal with substance abuse and mental illness, she said just as many are simply the victims of circumstance: women fleeing abusive husbands, single mothers with no support systems, men returning from prison with no one to turn to.
“One thing most of us want is to have Christmas, especially those of us with kids,” Young said. “To have them open some presents in the comfort of a home. But this year is going to be really bad for a lot of them.”