Routt County amps up resources ahead of potential shut downs, tough winter
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As a third wave of COVID-19 hits Routt County, forcing more shutdowns and creating financial stress and lost jobs, local community leaders and organizations are increasing resources for those in need of extra support this winter.
“We want people to stay in this valley, and we don’t want people to become homeless because of this pandemic,” said Sue Fegelein, executive director at LiftUp of Routt County, which offers a food bank, thrift store, financial assistance and rent assistance. “We want to feed everybody and make sure everybody is healthy.”
LiftUp received a grant to provide financial help to those who cannot make rent or mortgage payments, which Fegelein said is the largest need the organization has seen so far, with food insecurity as a close second.
The organization budgeted $55,000 for 2020 housing funds before COVID-19 hit but has been hit with demands much higher than what they planned for.
“We’re hoping to stretch the dollars we have into the first quarter of 2021, but we’re at almost four times what we budgeted,” Fegelein said.
Those in need of financial assistance can receive it by working with a case manager. They are encouraged to email email@example.com or call 970-870-8804.
As for help with paying utility bills, LiftUp works with Energy Outreach Colorado, which provides one-time help based on financial needs. Residents can submit an application through coloradopeak.secure.force.com
Although the LiftUp thrift store has had to close at various times throughout the restrictions, the store is currently open, which is where LiftUp makes most of its income. The food bank, however, has remained open and is operating with drive-up service. LifUp also has food set outside of its building at 2125 Curve Court for anyone, registered with them or not, to grab.
“This is what we do all year long,” Fegelein said. “It’s important to get people the assistance they need in a time of an emergency.”
Those in need of winter coats may also receive a clothing voucher in the food bank and use that to obtain a coat through the thrift store.
The Routt County Department of Human Services works closely with nonprofits in the community and also offers additional support. Some of the department’s standard programs have enhancements due to COVID-19 that can provide additional assistance for residents who may have been previously denied help due to exceeding income limits.
Department of Human Services Director Kelly Keith said the county can help provide assistance to local residents through the Disaster Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for households earning less than $75,000 with children that have been impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, Keith said, the county has funds specifically for the elderly and people with disabilities.
“We urge anyone to call with questions, and if we aren’t the right office, we will do everything that we can to find resources to reach out to (the right office),” Keith said.
County officials said navigating the pandemic and daily increase in case counts has been very difficult.
“Everything about this pandemic has been a challenge because there is so much uncertainty and so many unknowns,” said Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton.
Melton said a main challenge for keeping hospital capacity low while helping businesses stay open has been lack of direction and assistance from the federal government, which Melton said has more resources to actually help struggling people and businesses than the county does.
“Every other affluent nation in the world is providing economic relief to their citizens, and it’s very disappointing and problematic that the federal government is not acting to provide significant economic relief to folks,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to choose between economic health and the public health of our community.”
Melton said business owners, particularly restaurant owners, have expressed disappointment in COVID-19 restrictions and the resulting closures or limitations of their businesses.
“We’re asking people to make horrible sacrifices in order to make sure people don’t die,” she said. “Those are two bad choices, and our ability to deal with this would be a lot better if the federal government would step up and do their job.”
Fegelein said in a city like Steamboat Springs, where tourism so heavily impacts the community, LiftUp has seen an increase in hospitality and restaurant workers needing assistance, and she expects the trend to continue as conditions worsen.
“Folks are out of work,” she said. “It could be because their restaurant has shut down for inside dining, or it could be because of other limitations caused by COVID. And it could be because they have COVID, and they’ve been forced to quarantine, and they’re not getting paid for that time.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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