Protecting the Most Vulnerable During 2020’s Compounding Crises

Since 1952, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has been committed to building and supporting the Bay Area, even — or especially — when the challenges before us are enormous.

That describes 2020, a year of catastrophic, compounding, enormous challenges that threaten the most vulnerable among us.

We are deep in the midst of a pandemic, which has caused a serious economic downturn, both of which have exacerbated the inequities of longstanding systemic American racism. It is a triple-threat of trouble that calls all of us to step up in all the ways we can. And that’s what the Fund is, and has been, doing. We’re directing all of our efforts towards protecting vulnerable communities and we encourage all of our peers in philanthropy to do the same.

Extraordinary Response Required

In March, we reached out to our grantee partners to ask what the community needed most urgently from us. And then we reframed the year’s work in light of that. We quickly modified our grantmaking processes and made grants in reaction to the dramatic and widespread need for a wide range of COVID-19 relief.

To date, we have distributed $3.66MM in COVID-19 relief, including an extra $2.25MM drawn from the Fund’s corpus.

In the spring, we focused on helping our Bay Area neighbors gain or retain access to their basic survival needs — food, housing, and the referral services that connect those in need with safety net services, such as healthcare. We supported efforts that provided supplemental income to those who found themselves out of work, specifically focusing on undocumented immigrants and artists — both segments of our community deeply affected by the crashing economy and left out of the federal CARES Act. Legal aid for workers, too, helped those struggling to retain their rights and access the support due them. We contributed to loan funds helping small businesses and arts nonprofits remain solvent. And, hearing from youth the effects of a rushed switch to remote learning, the Fund invested in student mental health.

This first round of COVID-19 relief grants focused on the most vulnerable, including our Black, immigrant, undocumented, youth, and senior neighbors. We listened and learned from them, and from others who are working to mitigate this series of crises. And we began to understand that our response to this pandemic — unlike our response to other disasters the community has faced — cannot be linear.

A Different Kind of Disaster

We will not progress from supplying emergency relief, to fostering recovery, to rebuilding; we must, with all available partners, work across all three domains simultaneously. And we, more than likely, must do so for the foreseeable future.

Understanding this, we’ve made additional investments in COVID-19 relief this autumn. Those investments fall into three categories: enhancing learning opportunities for public school youth; income relief for people with (or who have lost) low-wage jobs; and rental assistance to defend against the coming eviction crisis. Many of those aided by these grants are women of color and immigrants — people who are and who have been more likely to face systemic challenges, such as racism.

Emergency Rent and Eviction Protection

The Walter & Elise Haas Fund has, for over ten years, worked to address homelessness through our Safety Net program. This new pandemic-related economic downturn has drastically increased the urgency of that work.

Even before the pandemic, renters — many of whom lacked the economic security to find a way into the housing market — were disproportionately people of color and immigrants. Now, those people and others are at great risk of losing their housing unless private philanthropy and the public sector acts effectively and together.

Now is when we need to do our part to minimize the number of those whose housing security is under threat. Therefore, the Fund is awarding a million dollars, split between the following four organizations, to provide emergency financial assistance for rent alongside eviction protection services:

Ongoing Efforts

All of this; it’s not enough. While it’s a lot for the Fund, and we’re glad we’ve been able to respond as we have, 2020 isn’t even over — and these problems won’t miraculously disappear.

We don’t know what comes next. We only know that we need to remain, as always, committed to the vision of a thriving, equitable Bay Area. We know we need others — whomever can — to step forward to help keep all of our neighbors healthy, secure, and hopeful.

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