Immigrants And Refugees

We all Need Food and Shelter, but Eviction Makes that Difficult

Catholic Charities of New York serves those in need of food and at risk of eviction // Bridget Haggerty
  • Eviction Cases On The Rise From 40 To 350 A Month At Westchester Catholic Charities
  • Over 1,000 People A Week Seek Food Assistance At Catholic Charities Pantries

Westchester has almost a million people. The Westchester division of Catholic Charities Community Services is responsible for meeting the needs of those people. I was fortunate enough to speak to their director, Esmerelda Hoscoy, and I learned a lot.

Westchester, like many areas in New York and across the country, has a high number of undocumented residents, who perform many of the essential jobs that make our region run. Some are families with no documentation, others are families where the children are documented but the parents are not. One thing all of the residents in Westchester have in common is their vulnerability to eviction.

During the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York, a moratorium was put on evictions. This was done because there was so much job loss across the State than many rents weren’t getting paid. The moratorium means that people can’t be evicted for not paying their rent while the moratorium is in place. For most residents that continues through late August. For undocumented residents, it expired at the end of June.

In the pre-Covid southern portion of Northern White Plains alone, the Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS) of Westchester dealt with approximately 40 cases a month of eviction protection. To be clear, eviction protection could involve mediating between renter and owner, helping catch up on back-rent – anything fair and legal to keep people in their homes. Since Covid arrived, the number has gone from 40 cases a month to 350. In those cases, the average arears is approximately $3,000. A significant portion of those in rent debt are undocumented and so no longer under the protection of a moratorium.

The math is pretty straight forward: the rent crisis is a monster of over 3.1 million dollars; and again, that’s only a portion of Westchester. Other nonprofit and civic agencies that attend to other regions in the county are seeing huge numbers too.

Apart from having a case worker, the people in jeopardy of eviction also get help in the form of gift cards or debit cards from Catholic Charities made possible by private donors. These gift cards are going to families who are struggling, so it’s not unusual to see the funds go first to food and essentials like medications or cleaning supplies, and then towards paying down owed rent. In other words, it goes pretty fast.

When helping the community holistically, a person might have more chance to pay down their rent if they don’t have to spend all their money on food. So CCCS Westchester has a vibrant food delivery program too.

In a coordinated effort between Catholic Charities and local parishes, we have been able to serve approximately 1,000 people a week with food parcels. And when that’s not enough, they’ll have pop-up food pantries. It all requires great coordination and a lot of physical work.

In the second of two articles about the work being done in Catholic Charities Community Services of Westchester, you are going to learn about the wonderfully unexpected way all this work is getting accomplished.