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Published by Omaha World Herald: Updated February 10,2021

United Way’s housing stability program helps to ease burden of COVID-19

Count Omaha’s Bobby Burrell among those who’ve felt the one-two punch of COVID-19 – a fierce combination of physical and economic fallout.

Burrell, his wife and two daughters tested positive for the virus in mid-November. He was the only one who showed symptoms, including a prolonged 102-degree fever. His time away from work compounded an already impacted financial situation. Bobby is in sales and works on commission. Over the spring, he saw his checks start to shrink as the pandemic intensified and customers pulled back.

“When you rely on your commission checks and you’re not getting a commission like you’re used to, things might not get paid,” Burrell said.

A military veteran, he admits pride and a drive to be self-sufficient can impact his willingness to ask for help. But in this case, with his house at stake, Burrell reached out.

“You don’t want to let people down when you’re the main breadwinner in the house,” he said. “I called Habitat for Humanity and asked them for some assistance.”

Burrell has been a Habitat for Humanity of Omaha homeowner for more than 10 years. The nonprofit, in partnership with United Way of the Midlands (UWM) and its CARES Housing Stability program, was able to provide Burrell with financial assistance – the equivalent of at least two months of mortgage payments.

“That’s done a lot,” Burrell said. “I love my house and don’t plan on losing it.”

Matt Wallen, UWM’s senior vice president of Community Impact and Analytics, said Burrell’s story illustrates the increased needs in our community.

“COVID-19 has left many families worried about maintaining a roof over their heads or keeping the lights and heat on,” he said. “At United Way, we’re committed to doing everything we can to help community members pay their housing or utility bills during this difficult time.”

Since the start of the pandemic, as many as 23% of Nebraska residents have said they missed a housing payment or were not confident they would make next month’s payment, according to the Census Pulse Poll.

UWM’s 211 Helpline is fielding around 500 calls a day. Top requests have been for housing assistance (30%) and utility assistance (27%).

Through UWM’s CARES Housing Stability Program, eligible Nebraska residents – who’ve experienced COVID-19-related financial hardship – can receive assistance with rent, mortgage and utilities. (That virus-related hardship can be anything from increased costs in childcare to increased internet bills to decreased income due to layoffs or business closures.)

UWM is coordinating with other area partners to provide this assistance, including Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless and Douglas County Community Response for metro-area assistance; Sarpy County Housing Foundation for Sarpy and Cass County assistance; and Family Housing Advisory Services, Lutheran Family Services, Nebraska Children and Family Foundation and Nebraska Housing Developers Association for statewide assistance.

Individuals can apply by filling out an online form.

Those in need of rental assistance should contact UWM’s 211 Helpline by calling 2-1-1 or texting their ZIP code to 898211. Helpline specialists are available 24/7 and can provide assistance in multiple languages through their tele-interpreter service.

Bobby Burrell knows he’s not alone in weathering the dual physical and economic drubbing that COVID-19 can deliver. He encourages others in need to take advantage of the help that’s available.

“If you need the assistance, ask for it,” he said. “There are all different kinds of programs to help us out.”