Coastside Hope
Donations from the Sea Crest School community were funneled through Coastside Hope to benefit those displaced by the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Photo courtesy Coastside Hope

The creators of a new countywide fund to benefit people adversely affected by COVID-19 report that more than $2 million have been used to keep more than 2,000 families and individuals housed since April.

The San Mateo County Strong Fund, created and administered by a partnership of private and public agencies, raised more than $8 million, according to a new report released last week. A quarter of that funding has gone to families and individuals, largely to pay for rent.

About $2.8 million was raised exclusively to help with families’ and individuals’ financial needs, such as rent, utilities and transportation. The remainder of the $8 million was distributed to service organizations and small businesses.

Between April and August, at least 3,500 households applied for financial assistance through the fund. About 2,200 have received their checks and, as of Tuesday, 485 applications were still being processed. This is according to Bart Charlow, CEO of Samaritan House, which oversees the portion of the fund designated for financial assistance for individuals and families.

Of the money spent, 93 percent went to rental payments. “Since COVID, those living on the edge are desperately coming in and many of those who thought they were very secure are now finding themselves asking for help for the first time,” Charlow said.

Charlow said that at Samaritan House alone, not counting the requests for assistance it manages from the other seven core agencies, the number of applications have multiplied since shelter-in-place orders took effect.

“We see on an average weekday as many applications as we used to see in a whole week,” Charlow said. “And it’s the same for the other core agencies.”

He expects the need will only grow. “Because the resources aren’t inexhaustible, we are concerned that the funding isn’t high the way it was in terms of what it’s been,” he said.

Following a push by several service organizations, including Samaritan House, for additional funding, the county Board of Supervisors approved another $2 million to help with financial assistance. The funds have yet to be disbursed.

The Board of Supervisors set up the SMC Strong Fund by seeding $3 million in Measure K funds. A combination of donations from 14 cities, foundations, private companies and individuals made up the remaining $5 million.

More than 40 percent of the funds, or about $3.4 million, went to local businesses, mostly in $10,000 grants. $425,000 was distributed to the county’s core service agencies to help with operating costs and to hire staff.

Judith Guerrero is the executive director of Coastside Hope, the core service agency serving the Coastside. She said that at the start of the pandemic her staff mostly provided unemployment assistance. Not long after, rental payments became the biggest need.

Guerrero said Coastside Hope has helped nearly 60 clients pay for housing with the help of SMC Strong and a patchwork of other funds. With those funds largely used up, she will depend on other funds, like the new $1 million grant from the city of Half Moon Bay. Altogether, she estimates her organization will be able to help another 100 families with rent.

“We’ve been trying to make the best estimate we’re going to need to help everyone,” she said.

She expects clients will want to begin paying off their accumulated debt. But she said she is safeguarding existing funds to pay for September rent.

Though funds are limited, she doesn’t want anyone to be deterred.

“These resources are available,” Guerrero said. “Sometimes what’s challenging in our community is that some people are hesitant to come and ask for help. It’s not just for a particular population but it’s for all in our community that needs it, because we’ve all been challenged these last five months.”

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