Message from the Executive Director
In 2020, The Bridge Fund arguably experienced the most challenging crisis in its 31-year history. Its mission has always been to prevent homelessness among the working poor. Starting early last year, the working poor have been the income group hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were laid off for long periods as business shut down; others had their work hours reduced. As a result, large numbers of the working poor could not afford to keep up with their housing costs.
To prevent large-scale evictions and rising homelessness, Federal and State governments have declared eviction moratoriums. These measures defer, but do not forgive, the financial obligations that continue to accumulate for struggling households.
Private charitable organizations cannot cope with so many households that have accumulated large arrears, often exceeding $10,000 per family. At the same time smaller landlords are feeling financial pressure to maintain their buildings and stay current with their mortgage. As part of a massive Federal spending bill, $47 billion was authorized as an Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to help families adversely affected by COVID-19 with their urgent housing issues. These funds are distributed to the States who then allocate them to affected municipalities. These municipalities are turning to non-profit organizations to help with the distribution of the funds. More about this later.
Here is how The Bridge Fund is adjusting to this sharply changing scene. First, early in 2020, both of our operating programs, and our administration, switched to working remotely. Our caseworkers quickly developed new ways of working with clients that are proving to be effective, but we look forward to returning to more in-person meetings with clients, hopefully in 2021.
Also, our criteria for helping families have changed because the threat of eviction has been temporarily deferred in most cases. We are eager to help working poor families and individuals whose incomes have been reduced by the impact of the pandemic, and who cannot keep up with their rental obligations. We will address rental arrears and provide them other services if necessary. In 2020, The Bridge Fund stabilized 986 households, including 2,234 people, of which 864 were children. These totals are slightly below those for 2019, but considering the difficult operating conditions, they were very encouraging. We cannot thank our staff enough for their dedicated efforts.
Recently, the Yonkers government reached out to The Bridge Fund of Westchester and provided it with a significant contract to distribute Federal funds to needy residents in danger of eviction. There is more on this exciting development in the section on the Westchester program. This special effort will be managed as a separate program with its own committed staff. Our main Westchester program, which is largely privately funded, will continue operating as before.
Private funding for The Bridge Fund has enabled our programs to grow and innovate. Our assistance to clients in need now encompasses critical financial aid, budget counseling, food cards that can be used at local supermarkets, and help in accessing additional training and education. Our heartfelt thanks to all those whose generosity has made our work possible.