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May 12, 2021

By Darcy Fargo

OGDENSBURG – With the assistance of a grant recently announced by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Ogdensburg is ready to help individuals suffering from housing-related issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $750,000 awarded locally was announced by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation as part of $20 million in COVID-19 emergency grants awarded around the state. The $20 million is in addition to two previous rounds of emergency grants. The two previous rounds included $50 million in funding statewide.

“When COVID-19 was picking up steam back in March of 2020, we were invited to propose strategies to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation on how they could work with Catholic Charities to provide a community-wide response to what was emerging as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, CEO and executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. “We saw two problems in the beginning: our agency, like many in the North Country, just isn’t big enough to immediately respond to the needs in every community across the North Country. We’re a little better positioned than most organizations, since we have offices in four major hubs, Watertown, Plattsburgh, Malone and Ogdensburg, but our offices are all small operations with maybe a couple employees. We proposed a cooperation with United Way in both sides of the diocese. They were able to use their network to purchase food and clothing and address shelter needs in the beginning. Early on, we were also buying a lot of (Personal Protective Equipment) and addressing supply chain issues. Those were huge needs.”

With the most recent round of funding, however, Catholic Charities is focusing on what it sees as a looming housing crisis.

“We’re seeing more housing-related issues on the horizon than what we had a year ago when the eviction moratoriums were brand new,” Deacon Donahue said. “Those moratoriums are starting to crumble. The CDC was overturned by a federal judge, and the moratorium on evictions was not upheld. New York State has extended the deadline until September, but, in some ways, that’s just kicking the can down the road. We fear we’re eventually going to face a huge problem with people being homeless.”

Catholic Charities is using the Cabrini Foundation grant to bolster a four-level approach to helping stem the tide of housing insecurity.

“The first level is direct housing,” Deacon Donahue said. “Catholic Charities has a limited number of housing units in Lewis and Jefferson counties, and we’re soon to have housing in St. Lawrence County. It’s small scale, but we provide that direct housing.”

The second level of Catholic Charities’ strategy is providing connections and advocacy with local agencies providing housing assistance.

“There are state funds available through local Departments of Social Services to help pay back rent,” Deacon Donahue said. “That program provides up to $4,000 to $5,000. Catholic Charities can serve as a referral agency, linking people with appropriate agencies, and advocate as people work to access that assistance.”

Deacon Donahue said the third level of Catholic Charities’ strategy continues its link with United Way.

“United Way has Alice programs at each end of the diocese that help with food, clothing, shelter and critical needs funding,” he said. “One-third of the grant goes to United Way partners for that type of assistance. Sometimes, it can also be help with vehicle repairs so someone can continue working. They might also help a family get reliable internet for kids can be schooled from home.”

Catholic Charities’ four-level strategy concludes with efforts to avoid homelessness and displacement of tenants all together through cooperative efforts with landlords.

“In some cases, we may be able to negotiate with landlords and see what they will agree to receive in settlement of back rent to avoid eviction all together,” Deacon Donahue said. “There are situations in which a tenant was able to pay rent for a while, but then their circumstances changes, and they became two- to three-months behind on rent. The landlord may not want to evict, but they need the back rent. We may be able to work with that landlord to come up with a budget plan to get the rent current in a period of time.”

The Catholic Charities project will require “a lot of cooperation from a lot of people,” Deacon Donahue noted.

“That’s really our role – trying to bring people together to solve a problem rather than just giving people money as assistance,” he said. “If we just give people money, we’ll run out of money pretty quickly. In a lot of cases, landlords know the pandemic will affect them; they know they might not get every nickel. They also don’t want to provide people apartments rent free. There has to be some compromise.”

The Catholic Charities housing program is being run out of the agency’s Watertown office. For more information or to access assistance, call that office at 315-788-4330.

“We’re really grateful to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation,” Deacon Donahue said. “They’re really looking at the housing crisis, and they’re looking to help.”

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation originated from the 2018 sale of Fidelis Care, a nonprofit health insurer, inspired by the bishops of the Catholic diocese to increase healthcare access for New York’s poor. According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to “improve the health and well-being of the vulnerable New Yorkers, bolster the health outcomes of targeted communities, eliminate barriers to care, and bridge gaps in health services. Named in memory of a tireless advocate for immigrants, children, and the poor, the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation provides flexible support for new and innovative approaches that enhance health and wellness across New York State.”

For more information, visit cabrinihealth.org.


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