County Launches New Rental Assistance Online Portal for Skagitonians

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Skagit County residents now have a convenient option to get pre-approved for help with rent and utility bills. This week, the County, and its community partners launched a new online portal where renters can complete a simple eligibility survey and get matched with a rental assistance provider, or complete an application for assistance.  

To access the portal, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/renthelp.

The Skagit County Rental Assistance Program provides financial assistance to income-eligible Skagit County renters, and their landlords, who may be struggling to afford rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Skagit County Rental Assistance Program is made possible by an $8.9 million grant provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce and funded by the Treasury Rent Assistance Program (T-RAP). The program is intended to prevent evictions during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis by paying past due and current/future rent and utilities for people needing relief.

“We know that many Skagit County residents have been impacted by COVID-19, and some are having trouble staying current on rent. Help is available, and we are hopeful that the new online portal will make it easier for residents and landlords to connect up with rental assistance providers.”

– George Kosovich, Skagit County Public Health Analyst

Households must meet all four of the following screening criteria to be eligible for rental assistance:

  1. Someone in the household has been unemployed for at least 90 days, or experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Must be currently experiencing housing instability or risk of housing instability, which may include unpaid rental fees or anticipation of inability to pay future rent.
  3. Household income is at, or below, 80% of Area Median Income.
  4. Household resides in Skagit County.

Residents who complete the online eligibility survey will get matched with one of the following rental assistance providers:

FORWARD Online Application Serving all Skagit County residents
Housing Authority of Skagit County Serving Section 8 Voucher Holders and tenants of Housing Authority-owned Properties
Catholic Community Services (CCS) Farmworker pr Serving members of the Indigenous, Latinx, and Farmworker Community
Volunteers of America Western Washington Serving all Skagit County residents
Northwest Youth Services Serving young adults ages 18-24
Community Action of Skagit County Serving all Skagit County residents
For contact information, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/renthelp

In addition, three organizations will offer outreach and extra assistance to complete the online assistance application:

  • Skagit Legal Aid: Serving residents of Skagit County and households facing eviction for reasons other than past-due rent
  • Community to Community Development (C2C): Serving members of the farmworker and Latinx community
  • Parent to Parent: Serving families where one or more individual has a developmental disability and/or complex healthcare needs

For more information about the Rental Assistance Program, to check eligibility, or to apply for assistance, go to www.skagitcounty.net/renthelp or call (360) 416-1500.


Winter Shelter in Skagit County

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On any given night in Skagit County, dozens of individuals and families experience homelessness. The winter months are always a difficult time for those who are unsheltered but the surge in COVID-19 cases and the economic and mental health impacts of the pandemic make this winter particularly treacherous to those who find themselves in need of shelter.

In past years, the County has supported a congregate-style winter shelter, but COVID-19 has made that option unsafe, as it does not allow for proper social distancing.  In order to temporarily house as many people in our community as possible and prevent the spread of COVID-19, Skagit County Public Health is supporting a number of motel voucher programs throughout the county. These programs provide individuals and families with temporary motel stays until a more permanent housing solution is available.

With the help of Friendship House, Skagit County Community Action, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and the Anacortes Community Health Council as well as funding from federal, state and local resources, approximately eighty families and individuals will have a warm place to sleep this winter.  Each motel program runs a little differently depending on the funding source. Some programs will focus on helping individuals with behavioral health diagnosis and other significant barriers to housing while other programs will cater specifically to families and offer additional support such as case management for families working to find permanent housing.

While the County regularly budgets funds for winter shelter programs, much of the funding for this winter season came from funds meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. While the additional funds made more beds available this year than in the past, the need is still much greater than the resources available. Currently well over 200 people in Skagit County are seeking housing.

These days, replacing traditional congregate shelters with motel voucher programs is not unique to Skagit County – communities across the country are using this model during the pandemic and there is some preliminary evidence that the benefits of motel voucher sheltering extend beyond curbing the spread of COVID-19. According to Shelterforce.org, organizations that have shifted to individualized care in motel settings are reporting a significant reduction of emotional and behavioral health issues that normally arise in a congregate setting.

These positive outcomes will likely be taken into consideration as the community determines how to best meet the needs of the homeless population in Skagit County beyond this winter and the pandemic. Winter shelter funding will last through mid-March but the County is still without a permanent year round shelter.  Currently the community is looking for ways to support a year-round emergency Shelter in Skagit County.

If you would like to know more about Skagit County’s plans for winter shelters, contact Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Tiffany's "home". She Sleeps in the driver's seat while her fiance sleeps in the back.

Homeless in the Time of COVID-19

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For the first time in a year and five months, Tiffany Holien has a bed to sleep in and a private bathroom. She’s not sleeping upright in her truck or on a mat at the cold weather shelter, just feet from someone else, without access to a shower and with no privacy.

Tiffany lost her housing in November 2018, less than two months after she lost her mother to heart disease. With just her own income, she was no longer able to pay rent and began living in her truck with her cat. Ever since then, she’s been homeless.

But almost two weeks ago, an opportunity for housing opened up, even if it’s only temporary. Tiffany now has a motel room. She can finally sleep lying down. It’s one bright spot during a global outbreak that has killed tens of thousands.

“If I was living in my truck, I’d probably already be gone,” Tiffany said. “Because I’d be around other people all the time.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, grant funds from the state Department of Commerce is enabling Skagit County to pay for motel vouchers for people experiencing homelessness who are a high risk of complications from COVID-19, including those over age 60, and those with underlying health conditions. Tiffany, at age 39, falls into the second category.

In fact, she was just in the hospital in mid-March. Tiffany’s fiancé, who lived with her in her truck, took her to the ER when she became ill to the point of deliriousness. It wasn’t COVID-19, it was pneumonia. And while she’s on her way to recovery, some days just walking about her room is difficult.

“I know that my immune system just got beat to hell. Staying in the motel, I don’t have to worry about that as much. In my truck, the basic foot traffic downtown could take me out. All it takes is one person walking by me coughing and I’m doomed, she said.

Currently, Tiffany and her fiancé are leaving their motel room only for necessities, such as grocery shopping or going to the food bank. Tiffany knows that she has this motel room only because of the outbreak. Even with an influx of state and federal money, there’s only enough funds to cover about 50 motel rooms through April. The need far exceeds this capacity. There are dozens of Skagit County residents left outside in the cold with no ability to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy.”

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “It’s great that we’re being put into motel rooms so we have a place to sleep and stay warm and everything, but it’s a bitter pill to take that it takes people dying to get this for us. While we’re appreciative of this, we also feel guilty because we’re getting something at the cost of other people’s lives. We watch the news and we feel relief, yet are bothered that people are dying in order to get us these motel rooms.”

Tiffany

Those of us with a roof over our head, well, we might feel frustrated about being told not to leave our home except for essential activities. We’re just so bored! And it’s spring and we want to go out and have fun! But we have to remember there are people, like Tiffany, who are grateful to have a small room they can’t leave, a warm bed to sleep in, and a sink to frequently their wash hands. Because it wasn’t that long ago that she didn’t have these things, and she knows that, for her, it’s only temporary. And then she’ll be back to living in her truck, wishing she had a home to be safe in.

Want to Help?

If you are in a position to help others in dire housing situations, considering donating to: