Royal Oak offers assistance for residents affected by COVID-19

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 21, 2020

 A pair of Lighthouse volunteers load a truck with food boxes containing perishable and nonperishable food for distribution.

A pair of Lighthouse volunteers load a truck with food boxes containing perishable and nonperishable food for distribution.

Photo provided by Andrea DiGiovanni

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ROYAL OAK — The Royal Oak City Commission recently appropriated a large portion of its CARES Act allocation from the federal government to three social service programs for city residents affected by COVID-19.

The three-pronged approach allocates $182,000 for rent and utility assistance to prevent eviction, $152,082 for a food box delivery program for those who can no longer afford food, and $27,150 for hotel vouchers for displaced residents unable to utilize a shelter due to social distancing measures created by the global pandemic.

Two nonprofit organizations responded to the call to manage the programs — Detroit-based Legal Aid and Defender Association, and Lighthouse, which also operates the South Oakland Shelter.

LADA and Lighthouse will operate a rental assistance program to prevent the eviction of low- to moderate-income Royal Oak residents who are at risk of becoming homeless due to a loss of employment from COVID-19. The organizations have the ability to help renters with up to three months of rental assistance to prevent eviction.

Lighthouse will also operate an emergency food distribution program to feed low- to moderate-income residents of Royal Oak. Lighthouse will purchase and distribute free food to households that can no longer afford food due to financial circumstances created by COVID-19.

Lastly, Lighthouse will operate a program to provide hotel vouchers to recently displaced Royal Oak residents who are unable to utilize a shelter facility due to social distancing measures created by COVID-19. The program allows for up to three months of hotel vouchers, three meals per day per person, and case management services.

“We want to help them get back on their feet and live independently,” Royal Oak Planning Director Joseph Murphy said. “Unfortunately, the city operated a program like this in the last economic downtown in 2009. We’re very fortunate to have nonprofit partners such as Lighthouse and Legal Aid and Defender Association.”

He said the city is prepared to add more funds to the hotel vouchers for displaced Royal Oak residents, as legislative protections prohibiting evictions are set to expire soon.

Jenny Poma, Lighthouse chief operating officer, said the nonprofit has had a longstanding working relationship with the city of Royal Oak and other Oakland County municipalities in terms of distributing Community Development Block Grant funds.

“Pretty immediately, we saw a dramatic increase in people needing food assistance,” Poma said. “We were serving like triple the amount we normally would on a weekly basis, just in food.”

In response, she said, Lighthouse adjusted its operations to facilitate curbside pickup and more distribution sites. It collaborated to use Oakland University’s Oakland Center as a food distribution hub, but recently found a new distribution center in Waterford, as classes are set to resume this fall.

She said Genesis The Church in Royal Oak will now serve as a base for volunteers to pick up and deliver food boxes packed at the Waterford facility, and the organization is still seeking more volunteers to help with delivery efforts. Thanks to community partners, Poma said, the food boxes include a variety of fresh produce and nonperishable goods.

The nonprofit, she said, employs a case worker who vets Royal Oak families to ensure they are eligible for the social service programs offered through the city. However, Poma urged anyone who is struggling to contact Lighthouse to secure assistance.

“We’ll still service them. We just won’t bill it to the (Royal Oak CARES Act programs)” she said.

For the first time in more than 30 years, Poma said, the South Oakland Shelter has moved away from a model that rotates temporary shelters between churches to housing families in a hotel.

“Right now, we’re at 90 (individuals) in a hotel. We have a lot of families, a lot of children. In total, we served 144, so we’ve successfully transitioned some folks into housing,” she said. “Once those holds (on evictions) are lifted, we’ll see a dramatic increase in people reaching out for assistance.”

In a normal year, Poma said, Lighthouse serves approximately 9,000 people; in the last three months alone, it has provided emergency services to more than 10,000 people.

To request help, volunteer or donate, visit mycovidresponse.org or call (248) 600-9541.

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