Summit County Cares kicks off holiday campaign to raise money for FIRC
Carlos is a married man, a father of two, who has lived in Summit County for nearly 13 years. His family of four resides in Summit Cove, where his eldest daughter attends Summit Cove Elementary School. Carlos and his wife both work in local jobs, and generally enjoy living in Summit County.
Trouble came earlier this year when Carlos struggled to find work during the off-season, unable to find more than a part-time job at a fast food restaurant. On top of that, his wife had to be taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco for emergency gall bladder surgery. Between little work and high medical bills, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to afford his rent.
“It was everything at the same time,” Carlos said. “My job, my wife was sick, surgery, what else?”
At that point, Carlos realized he had no choice, and turned to the only remaining resource available to him — the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC).
FIRC’s emergency assistance fund provides temporary financial aid for Summit County residents who are struggling beneath rent, utility or medical costs.
FIRC estimates that more than 97 percent of its clients face financial struggle because of sudden or seasonal job loss, reduction of hours, a medical emergency keeping them from work or the need to get out of an abusive relationship.
“It’s just a hard place to live up here,” said Anita Overmyer, development director at FIRC.
The organization has served 121 households through its emergency assistance fund so far in 2014, and estimates it will help about another 50 before the year is through. Of those already given assistance, 99 were helped with housing, 21 with medical bills and one with utilities.
Using information from the 2011 Self-Sufficiency Standard, FIRC estimated monthly costs for basic expenses for living in Summit County. Based on cost of living, the organization reports, a family of four, with one child in child care, needs to earn $76,939 a year or $6,411 per month to afford the basics, without outside assistance.
About 90 percent of households served this year through the emergency assistance fund were at or below 200 percent of federal poverty level (FPL), the report continues. A family at the 200 percent FPL earns $3,975 per month or $47,700 a year. A family at 100 percent FPL earns even less, which accounts for about 45 percent of these families, according to FIRC.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh well, there’s so many jobs available now, why are people still in these situations?’” said Overmyer. “And ultimately it’s because the cost of living is increasing at a much higher rate than anything else, than wages are.”
The seasonality and weather dependency of many jobs here in Summit County lends itself to instability, she added. Someone might have plenty of work during summer and winter, but not very much or even nothing during spring and fall. If it’s a year that experiences poor snowfall, those who work in snow-related jobs could suffer cut hours or even lost jobs.
The point isn’t that employers aren’t paying, Overmyer said, but that “the cost of living is increasing at a much higher rate than wages are.”
TIMES OF CRISIS
While it’s hard enough getting by paycheck to paycheck, that becomes nearly impossible when life inevitably throws a wrench into everyday living. Medical emergencies can cause multiple missed paychecks, which many can’t afford.
“It’s really those one or two missed paychecks and all of a sudden they went from being OK to ‘I can’t afford my rent, I don’t know what to do,’” Overmyer said.
That’s when the emergency assistance fund can help. A potential client will come in, meet with FIRC employees and go over paperwork to figure out how much will be required to help them stabilize.
“When you don’t have money and you have to pay something, you feel so frustrated,” said Carlos. When he learned that FIRC could help him, he was immediately relieved.
“If somebody helps you, you feel so nice,” he said. “I don’t know, what can I say? Awesome, really great, fabulous. Yeah, that’s what I feel.”
FIRC has a variety of programs in place to help people, such as classes on shopping on a budget, and similar counseling programs.
“But a lot of times, when people are living crisis to crisis, it’s hard to think about anything else besides ‘this is happening right now,’” Overmyer said. “It’s our ultimate goal to help them build on their strengths that they already have, and use those strengths to avoid crisis in the future.”
A QUESTION OF HOUSING
Some things have changed since last year. The majority of the assistance fund has gone towards housing, as opposed to medical. Overmyer attributes this to increased insurance availability, as more people qualify for Medicaid. This doesn’t necessarily mean a medical emergency won’t push a family into crisis, but that perhaps it won’t be as difficult to recover from.
Housing is still a large problem though, as rents in Summit County and other resort areas tend to be high.
“There is a great need for affordable home ownership opportunities for moderate income residents, but we also see disturbing trends relating to renters,” said Rob Murphy, FIRC assistant director. Recently, he added, “we’ve been hearing that we can expect low vacancy rates. People are going to have much more trouble finding places and that rents are likely to increase even further.”
A handful of affordable housing is available in Summit, including the Villa Sierra Madre II housing complex, which opened this October in Silverthorne. As of the opening, all units were rented and a wait list had started.
“So (having affordable housing) could mean that people are able to weather the crisis on their own and don’t have to request assistance. It could mean that they, over a period of several years, they encounter a crisis like that less often because their housing payment is less. In some case they may still, even with the reduced rent prices, not entirely be able to weather the crisis on their own, but the amount of help they need to remain stable may be significantly less,” Murphy said. “It may not stop a particular family from having to come and ask for help … but the amount that they require from a helping agency like ours may be significantly less because of the affordability of their housing payment.”
Those who don’t live in low-income or affordable housing units will need to deal with higher rents, and potentially larger financial crises.
While the emergency assistance fund is open to donations year-round, the holiday campaign ushers in a final push to pull in more money by the end of the year. Donations can be made through The Summit Foundation, through a link on the website.
“The best thing about this campaign from a donor perspective is 100 percent of the money raised is used to actually pay the bills. None of it goes into administration costs,” Overmyer said. “You know 100 percent of your gift is making a true difference.”
In past years, Summit County Cares has pulled in up to $60,000. This year, Overmyer said the goal is $50,000. The campaign lasts until Dec. 31.
Though the perception may be that we in Summit County “live in paradise,” Overmyer said, “Unfortunately it’s still a really difficult place to live for people who are working multiple jobs or seasonable jobs. It’s hard to have a savings up here; it’s hard not to live paycheck to paycheck. We all know them. We’ve all been there, most of us. … I think that this is really eye opening, the true cost of living up here.”
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