‘They work so hard and care so strongly about the people that they are serving’

August 28, 2020

A man had his hours cut at work — from eight hours a day down to three — because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, his employer told him that they would have to let him go. There was only one thought on his mind, though: how was he going to pay for his rent and take care of his family?

He says a friend told him to reach out to Inspiritus because they were assisting people who had also lost their job.

“When I called Inspiritus to ask for help, I got one month rent for my home,” he says. “I was under stress financially and mentally. The one-month rent assistance gives me so much support because I know everyone is desperately in need.”

There are many in Greater Atlanta who are “desperately in need” right now. Inspiritus is a nonprofit organization focused on guiding people who have “experienced disruption” back on the path from simply surviving to a position where they can thrive.

Calling the pandemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus a “disruption” is an extreme understatement.

About two weeks into March, major cities across the country began shutting down businesses, restaurants, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus. As of Aug. 24, COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and in severe cases, difficulty breathing, has infected more than 5.6 million people nationwide and killed more than 176,000.

This is more than just a health crisis. There are families in Greater Atlanta who are feeling the economic impact, too.

“The families that COVID has disproportionately hit have been the low-income families and people of color,” says Sarah Burke, Development Associate for Inspiritus.

Inspiritus provides services to a large refugee and immigrant population. They provide financial advisement, disability services, disaster relief and they also have a career center to help connect clients to employment. Inspiritus delivers basic needs, safety, community integration and self-sufficiency programs and services to help individuals and families achieve a “thriving life.”

Things have changed in the past six months, though. They have also been connecting families with food banks and making sure children and their parents are receiving EBT relief, Burke says.

“We want to make sure parents know what resources are available to them, their rights and that they have a strong liaison to the community between the resources and their family,” Burke says.

But many of the requests for help have come in the form of rental assistance, Burke says. Many people who apply for help have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, they’ve been furloughed or laid off or have had to take up to two weeks off because of exposure to the virus and have missed a paycheck.

“We have teams that can help them find jobs,” Burke says. “For many, this is one-time relief and the goal is that they can return to work if they’ve had COVID or, if they’ve lost their job, they can come to our staff and find a new job. They need to make sure they don’t fall behind on rent because of an interruption in their employment or income, and they need to make sure they aren’t evicted because of COVID.”

According to the Aspen Institute, if current conditions do not change, 29-45 percent of renter households in Georgia could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year.

Organizations like Inspiritus are crucial, but so is the funding it takes to provide these services.

Inspiritus was one of the most recent recipients of grant funds made possible through the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, a joint effort from United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

On Aug. 11, United Way and Community Foundation announced the seventh round of grants for the COVID-19 response. Inspiritus received $100,000 to meet the increased demand for financial assistance in its multi-county area.

The seventh round of grants totaled roughly $1.13 million and targeted emergency financial assistance for housing-related costs. The grants went to 10 organizations in response to the region’s needs resulting from COVID-19.

Inspiritus has been a longstanding partner with United Way prior to COVID-19 and has supported the organization’s work with children and families and its refugee and immigrants services — you can learn more about Inspiritus and their work at www.weinspirit.org.

The past few months have been difficult, but Burke says it has shown how strong Inspiritus’ team is and just how important collaborations with organizations like United Way and Community Foundation can be.

She says the staff miss having that firsthand, heart-to-heart connection with those families they help.

“It’s hard — hard is not even the right word,” she says. “It’s had a strong, emotional impact on our staff and the clients to not be able to sit with them, but our leadership team has done a phenomenal job of trying to improve morale.

“Our team is incredible, they work so hard and care so strongly about the people that they are serving.”

To help those in need, donate to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. If you would like to empower communities of color in Greater Atlanta impacted by decades of systemic barriers and disinvestment, donate to the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund.

You can also ensure that all children in Greater Atlanta have access to the same resources and opportunities by donating to the Child Well-Being Impact Fund.

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