With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the recent declaration that we are now entering a national State of Emergency that is hitting Montgomery County particularly hard, these are uncertain times for all of us. However, for the estimated 170,000 Pennsylvania working families who live in poverty, the very real possibility of losing their job or home compounds this uncertainty.
This outbreak will have a profound impact on vulnerable families. Hourly workers have already started to see a significant reduction in their paychecks and there is a very real possibility that many will be laid off as economic activity slows. As seen in other countries, service and hospitality workers will be hit the hardest. For many of our neighbors who do not have sufficient, if any, paid sick leave, an illness in the family will also result in serious losses to their household income. Those who already live in – or on the edge of – poverty will be severely impacted and it is quite possible that we will see increases in homelessness, evictions, and food insecurity in Montgomery County.
As schools across the state close, working parents will also struggle with childcare. Many parents will be forced to make the decision between paying for childcare or taking extended unpaid leave from work. For the roughly 30,000 Pennsylvania students that are currently experiencing homelessness, these school closures will have a devastating effect on their stability.
While securing public health for everyone is of the highest importance, the economic fallout of this crisis will disproportionately impact working families. More than 32,000 Montgomery County renters are severely cost burdened, paying more than 35% of their income toward housing. This means that a single unforeseen financial crisis can destabilize them, putting them at risk for homelessness.
This outbreak will undoubtedly destabilize the housing situation of countless families in our community unless we take proactive steps to mitigate this now. We want to make sure every precaution possible is taken to prevent working families from falling into crisis.
In situations like this, it is important that we display compassion and caring for every member of our community. While we are not able to physically come together, now is the time to show solidarity in the protection of our most vulnerable citizens. The most effective ways to do this are to donate food, supplies, and funding to local shelters and service providers. You can also reach out to your state and federal legislators to ensure they pledge, and seek legislation, to support vulnerable families in our community.
If you want to help, please reach out to us at i-fha.org. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, you can call 211.
COVID-19 will change our way of life even as we take preventative steps to mitigate its impact. Without our intervention, it will have a devastating long-term effect on Montgomery County. You can help to minimize the impact that COVID-19 has on our most vulnerable residents.
Marsha A. Eichelberger
Inter-Faith Housing Alliance in Ambler