Local organizations prepare for anticipated increase in homelessness due to COVID-19 effects

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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – The Eastern Carolina Homelessness Organization, ECHO, will see an increase in funding through the federal government’s CARES Act to help the homeless across 13 counties in the Carolinas.

The organization’s CEO says the funding will help them prepare for the anticipated increase in homelessness due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It really takes a lot of different people, from a lot of different specialties, with a lot of different expertise to come together to help anyone in this situation,” said Reverend Jim Jones with the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

The coronavirus is changing the way the community helps the homeless.

Right now, New Directions of Horry County’s homeless shelter is at full capacity and they aren’t taking new clients due to a need to maintain social distancing.

“To protect the clients that are with us now, to protect our staff, we made the decision for social distancing that we needed to have a little bit more room,” said New Directions of Horry County Executive Director Kathy Jenkins.

While an increase in homelessness is anticipated due to factors surrounding COVID-19 like record unemployment, ECHO is prepared to take care of housing.

The federal CARES Act will give an increase in funding to two different homelessness grant programs that ECHO relies on to provide housing to the homeless.

It will also increase funding for the grant program echo uses to help veterans and their families find shelter.

“Their first award in the COVID-19 was $8.7 million,” said ECHO CEO Joey Smoak. “It’s significant. So, they absolutely are putting the funding behind what they view is the projected need.”

“As these numbers increase, you know, we can get them into the apartment or house, whatever it may be, utility deposits, rental, security deposits, how many ever months rent because it all goes case by case,” Smoak continued.

However, the grants don’t cover things like food or household items. “Food is a big thing,” said Smoak.

Smoak says the community has been great with donations so far, but if the pandemic prompts an increase in homelessness, they’re going to need a lot more.

North Carolina Reverend Jim Jones, who just recently helped a homeless man get back on his feet in Conway, says food, but also friendship, is a key to helping the homeless.

“How wonderful would it be inviting a relationship with someone you don’t know, to find out about their life, their life experiences,” said Rev. Jones.

If you want to help or donate, call Wendy Martin at (843) 528-7747 to learn more. To see what items are eligible for donation, click here.

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