25% of individuals requesting help from Crisis Assistance Ministry since COVID have been brand new to the agency, compared with 1% during the same time last year.
Liana Humphrey, the nonprofit’s chief marketing officer, says they’re coming from areas you might not expect – Huntersville, SouthPark, Ballantyne.
Do you remember Thomas J. Stanley’s 2010 bestseller, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy? The book revealed that America has a number of millionaires living well below their means in middle-class neighborhoods; clipping coupons; driving older cars; forgoing luxury vacations and sitting on substantial nest eggs.
The book made the case that a big house and sports cars don’t necessarily signal wealth. Things are not always what they seem.
Today, in the grip of a pandemic and dire economic downturn, there a lot of families who may appear to have wealth that are, in fact, in panic mode.
Operating in Panic Mode
in 2020, 25% of individuals requesting assistance since COVID have been brand new to the agency, compared with 1% during the same time last year. So the actual percentage increase is much greater than 25% And Liana Humphrey, the nonprofit’s chief marketing officer, said they’re coming from areas you might not expect – Huntersville, SouthPark, Ballantyne.
It’s less shocking when you consider that in Mecklenburg County, 20% of households have $0 net worth. For Black and Latinx households, that number goes to 30%.
While COVID disproportionately impacted low-income and minority communities, it did not leave every middle-class family unscathed.
“COVID has pointed out the fragility of some families in our community,” Humphrey said. “Too many of our neighbors are just one missed paycheck away from a financial crisis.”
COVID-19 Ravages Finances, Just Like Bodies
COVID has had a devastating impact on low-income communities. People in low-wage jobs are more vulnerable to health problems and less likely to have a social safety net, including health insurance, Humphrey said. In normal times, Crisis Assistance Ministry clients need an average of $400 to resolve an immediate crisis. Today, it’s double that.
Humphrey’s role as head of marketing includes “spreading the word” about the services Crisis Assistance offers. Because of COVID, her target audience has expanded to geographies that haven’t typically been Crisis clients.
“If you’re on the helping side of the equation,” she said, “you can let people know there is no shame in asking for help. It could be your neighbor, a co-worker, someone you worship with, who’s in need of help and reluctant to ask. It’s OK to talk about how no one should suffer in silence.”
“We have clients coming to us who’ve been living for weeks with no electricity,” she said. “They’ve had their power shut off, and they’ve felt too much shame to ask for help. We don’t want anyone to be in that position.”
Helping Charlotte Understand the Challenges
Civic engagement is also part of Humphrey’s job. Before COVID, that included educating the community on the challenges faced by the working poor and the barriers they face trying to rise out of poverty.
Her team used to lead in-person, two-hour poverty simulations that demonstrated how hard it can be to get through the day when you don’t have your own transportation or don’t have reliable childcare. They share what it’s like to have an absentee landlord who refuses to make needed home repairs or have an hourly job that doesn’t pay you when you’re sick or have to stay home with a sick child.
Liana and her team are now working on a virtual version of that training so people can participate in from home. As her bio on the Crisis Assistance website reads: She “educate[s] the community about the impact of poverty and inspire[s] them to action.”
Liana wants people to know that all of Crisis Assistance’s services are offered confidentially. And because of COVID, clients no longer even come into their building on Spratt Street near the intersection of Graham St. and Statesville Ave.
“We’ve pivoted to offering curbside service,” Humphrey said. People used to come inside the Crisis Assistance lobby, but now clients can drive up Monday through Friday from 8:30AM to 5PM, have a brief conversation with the CAM customer service team and go home. All counseling sessions with caseworkers now happen by phone instead of in person.
For clients who come by bus, there’s a separate walk-up line.
Working for the Promise of America
Humphrey has now been in the U.S. longer than she was in her native England. “This is home,” she said. She met her husband, Josh, when they were college students in England, and she moved to the U.S. when they married.
She appreciates “the tremendous promise of America,” she said. “This is a land of opportunity, a place where you can reinvent yourself, change your life’s course. But that promise isn’t shared equally by everyone.”
“My life’s work is to help everyone experience that promise of America.”
Learn More About Crisis Assistance Ministry
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