Horry County partnered with the Eastern Carolina Housing Organization (ECHO) to mobilize its $10.7 million grant to assist people struggling to pay their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Treasury Department recently allocated this money to the county to support the expansion of the Homeless Prevention Assistance program through the ECHO and the Horry County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which is available to any landlord or tenant who lives in the county with proof of residency. The ERAP offers eligible applicants up to 12 months of rental and utility arrears, plus one month forward.
“We recognize that while in many ways life is getting back to normal, there are people in our community still struggling to make ends meet,” said Beth Tranter, deputy director of Horry County Community Development. “We are proud to continue this partnership with ECHO to get assistance directly to the folks that need help.”
Julie Meaney, director of community data solutions at ECHO, said this effort fits right in with their mission.
“We are an organization that is committed to breaking cycles of homelessness in our community,” Meaney said. “We’re a group of passionate, dedicated professionals and there’s a little bit of a street-fighter in all of us. And we are fiery advocates for people experiencing homelessness and all the related issues that go along with that.”
According to ECHO CEO Joey Smoak, there are 13 counties in ECHO's service area and Horry Country accounts for nearly 85% of the organization's beneficiaries.
In the first few months of the pandemic, he said their number of applications quadrupled. Where they would usually see 25-35 applications per week, they were seeing 75-100 for multiple weeks. More recently, the numbers have settled off, with no more applicants having to be housed in hotels because of a lack of accommodation. From Oct. 1 to June 12, they’ve assisted 1,428 people in their service area.
Smoak said ECHO’s dedication to this issue hits home for many on their staff.
“A little over half of our staff at ECHO have lived experience with homelessness, so it’s really a peer-to-peer thing,” Smoak said. “Our best practice is our people here and [our] compassion.”
Given the economic and social turbulence spawned by the pandemic, Meaney said their engagement with people who are struggling couldn’t be more timely.
“When you’re already down, if I’m facing eviction, if I’m homeless, if I can’t stop using drugs, whatever it is — the value of another human being seeing me and respecting me and treating me with kindness is worth way more than any dollar amount could represent,” Meaney said.
Along with alleviating economic hardships caused by the pandemic, the ECHO offers services to support veterans who are already homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. It also provides transitional housing for those dealing with domestic abuse or substance abuse. Generally, there are short-term and long-term housing programs offered to provide financial assistance for housing expenses depending on the individual’s needs.
To apply, applicants must have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced some financial hardship due to the pandemic, demonstrate a risk of becoming homeless, provide a rental lease or agreement that is in the applicant’s name and satisfy their income threshold.
Interested applicants can apply online at https://erap.echousing.org/ or by calling the ERAP line at (843) 492-2600.