The United Way of Greater St. Louis is hoping to provide basic assistance to employees who lost work when businesses in Ferguson and Dellwood were looted or burned in November. But the agency is struggling to locate qualified individuals.
Displaced employees who qualify for the assistance would have had to have lost their jobs or had their hours significantly reduced, by more than 40 hours a week, said the organization's vice president of community response Regina Greer.
"What we are looking to do is to make sure that...we can help them to avoid threat on their utilities, so again we're looking at basic needs to prevent homelessness, utility assistance or emergency rent or mortgage assistance if they are on the verge," Greer said.
The funding comes out of the $1 million contract the organization received from St. Louis County to "help people impacted by the events in Ferguson," according to a press release. The Ferguson area, including Dellwood, saw major unrest after the police shooting of Michael Brown in August and rioting and looting following the grand jury decision not to indict former Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in November.
The first phase of that money, about $600,000 worth, is to go to assisting with basic needs; other phases will include mental health counseling and community rebuilding. Back in October, Greer said the organization helped around 350 Ferguson area families affected by the August unrest.
Now the group is turning it's attention to helping employees displaced by November's unrest and is putting out a public call to help find qualified individuals.
Noting it's only "just beginning to reach out to people," Greer said the organization had previously worked with other agencies like North County Inc. Regional Development Association to try to find employees. When asked how many displaced employees had been identified so far, Greer said, "None. None to date."
"We do realize that there has been a little bit of time that has passed between, but we have been sourcing and working through employers and others to try and identify employees who are scattered throughout the area, who may have worked in Dellwood or Ferguson," she said.
In casting a "wider net," Greer said she hopes more individuals will call 211 or 800-427-4626 by Thursday to be screened for the basic assistance. At the same time, they will also be screened to see if they are eligible to attend a job placement event on Friday and Saturday at the Ferguson Community Center. Two local employment agencies will work with those employees who lost their jobs to "fast-track them to identified positions in the community," she said.
For those unable to attend or who do not call in time to be screened for the weekend events, another basic needs eligibility event will take place on Feb. 21st, and Greer said people can call 211 at any time.
Greer said it's important to reach as many affected people as possible, which is why the United Way is putting out the public call.
"They’re facing a lot of challenges," she said. "If you’re unable to pay your bills, if you’re unable to make ends meet and, again, this is through no fault of their own, we do see an opportunity based on needs that have been identified to us, to prevent a person from being homeless, to prevent them from sinking deeper and if we can give them some emergency relief, then our job is to try to help people stabilize so they can get back on track."
While this particular push to find those who need assistance comes months after the unrest, Greer said people have always been able to call 211 to be directed to resources in the community.