Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Restoring economic & spiritual vitality

7/1/2021

Restore Hope had one of its busiest years on record in 2020. Since 1978, the Tulsa nonprofit has sought to “restore families in financial crisis to economic and spiritual vitality.” One of the ways they fulfill this mission is in providing rental and utility assistance to families and individuals in need.

Before the pandemic caused by COVID-19, the most financial assistance Restore Hope had distributed in a single year was $305,000. Between May 2020 and March 2021, the nonprofit distributed $4 million in financial assistance to 4,174 individuals and 1,624 families. The average amount of assistance was just over $2,400 per household.

The nonprofit’s impact was significant enough that Rev. Jeff Jaynes, the executive director of Restore Hope, was named one of the Tulsa World’s People of 2020.

Rev. Jeff Jaynes has served as the director of Restore Hope Ministries since 2011. Archived photo.

“It was an honor to be selected as one of the Tulsans of the year, but the credit for that goes to our excellent team, and the glory goes to God,” Jaynes said. “We have seen some new donations from new people we hadn’t connected with before. We still don’t have any volunteers coming in because of COVID, so it would be hard to know if we’ve received more volunteers. We’ve definitely received new donations. One of the things that it did was it helped people who already support us want to support us more, and I’m very thankful for that.”

This March, Restore Hope launched an online portal for a new wave of rental assistance applications. In its first week, the portal received 2,462 applications for assistance – 700 more than the nonprofit received in all of 2020, which in turn was 1,300 percent higher than the previous best year.

The applications totaled $8 million in requested aid.

“Even though we’ve been doing this for the past year and rent assistance for the past 25 years, I don’t think any of us can know the real number of people who are in need right now,” Jaynes said. “Not everyone is out there saying they have need. There may be people who are suffering silently and are worrying in fear, and my hope is if people who are facing this are in that boat, that they ask for help.”

The editor for the Oklahoma Conference spoke with Jaynes about the rental assistance program and its impact on individuals and families during the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the rental assistance program that Restore Hope has been working with.

Our annual budget is $1 million, and that included rent assistance before. In less than a year, just since May 1, 2020, Restore Hope has spent $4 million in rental assistance, $2 million of which was from the Cares Act through Oklahoma. We recently opened a portal for the upcoming CARES 2 funding. There have been $8 million worth of requests in a single week. We anticipate more funding coming from the American Rescue Plan and we’ll know more about that soon. We anticipate spending over $40 million in the next year.

These funds being available from the federal government is a game changer. We also know this funding is not permanent. The impact of COVID is both deep and wide. We’ve seen some really high rent bills in the past year; one the other day was $23,000 that this family owes in rent. It’s not unusual for us to see $5,000 to $10,000 owed.

The depth of the impact is tremendous, but it’s also wide. There are more people in need of help now who have never had to ask for help before. Not only is the balance owed higher, but the number of people is also higher, which means even if the assistance was smaller than average, that amount adds up pretty quickly. Before, our average assistance was $700 per month per family. Over the past year, it was $2,400 on average rent payment. We don’t yet know what our average will be for this new program, but we guess it’s going to be higher.

Going forward, as we look in the years to come, I can imagine we’re not going to be able to spend that much money on rent assistance, but I would also say our goal remains and has always been to put ourselves out of business. We would love to close because there’s no need. We’re clearly not there now, but I would love for there to be a time when people aren’t asking for rent assistance, because there’s no need.

How many more people could be helped, and when is/was the deadline?

Right now, we’re just helping in Tulsa county, and that’s been us for 25 years, but hopefully soon we’ll be adding 19 more counties in NE OK to that list that we’ll be helping. If you live in OK and have a rent need or you’re a renter and need assistance, if you’re eligible for this program, there are other programs in the state that you’d be eligible for. If someone needs rent assistance, they should call 211. It’s the same phone number across the state, and the folks will know the program that would be the most applicable to their needs.

If the numbers translate, if we’re talking about the average amount of assistance stays about the same, then we’re looking at about 17k households (projection/estimation). That’s a 10x increase over last year. I don’t know that there are 17k households that are in need, but I’m guessing that there are. I’m also guessing that the amount of assistance needed for each house hold will be higher.

If I look at the numbers from people who’ve applied for our program right now, the amount per application is about $3,200, and that’s just a week in. I’m not sure yet whether we’ll only be able to pay back rent or if we can also pay up to three months forward. I don’t know whether that $8 million includes any rent going forward.

For the past year, none of us have really been able to think about the hopeful future. We have a hope for the future, but it’s hard for any of us to predict that next month is going to be better. Put the fear of COVID in general and add the potential of homelessness. Add the fear of no utilities. Imagine the burden of a $5,000 or $10,000 rent bill. For us not only to take away that burden, but also to take it away for the next three months, is huge.

The checks and payments go to the landlords just about every time, and that helps the landlords pay their bills, which is also huge. It has an economic impact, but it also has an emotional impact and a spiritual impact.

That brings us back to our mission: to restore families in financial crisis to economic and spiritual vitality. We’re trying to help people who have a financial fear to find hope again. Are we here for such a time as this? No question. All the work we’ve done in the past has prepared us for this moment. That’s why our board has said let’s do this, that’s why our staff has said let’s make this happen, and I’m so glad God has given us this opportunity and the resources to make it happen.

Tell me about the house bill targeting evictions and why Restore Hope asked people to call their representatives.

It was a really dangerous bill. Had that bill been law, during the cold snap we had in February, people would’ve died. We kept somebody from being homeless by using protections that the bill would’ve gotten rid of. That 70-year-old woman might not be alive today had that bill been law.

In 2018-2019, Restore Hope distributed more than 210,000 pounds of food to nearly 4,000 families as part of their efforts to reduce hunger. Archived photo.

The prophets in old spoke truth to power. Jesus turned over tables when he felt that people were being treated unjustly. It’s not usually what the church does or what Restore Hope does, but we felt somebody needed to speak up for what we felt was the voice of the people who would be hurt by this bill.

We could provide millions of rent assistance to help at the individual and family level, but it doesn’t change any of the systems that are creating the problem in the first place. What we often provide—the assistance—is mercy. That’s good, but we also serve a God of justice, and justice is asking why are people in need in the first place.

There are also bills we’re supporting. There was one that said landlords who had a loss could get a tax credit. We’re really glad it passed; it’s good for landlords and doesn’t hurt tenants. There are bills that would help change the system, but they didn’t get a hearing this session.

We live in a democratic system. We wanted to let people know so they could advocate on their own. Methodists around the state of Oklahoma called their elected representatives and senators, and it obviously made a difference.

What is Restore Hope looking at for 2021?

In 2021, we’re asking ourselves, what is Restore Hope’s role, and what is the role of others we can partner with?

We have kept helping provide food during the pandemic. We had to shift operations to a satellite campus at Asbury UMC on March 18, 2020; we’re still operating out of that location for food. We haven’t been able to have volunteers, so we needed to be able to operate a program without volunteers. We moved to a contact-less system using technology to help us. I’m so thankful for the space at Asbury UMC so we can continue to serve. I don’t know that we could’ve been able to keep serving our food program during the pandemic without that secondary location.

One of the things we’ve tried to do is step up where we need to step up, but we’ve also looked at who else is doing good work and partnered up with them.

We can’t be, nor do we want to be, the only provider of assistance in need. We know there are other agencies that can help. So, when we have the opportunity to send a referral we’re happy to do that. We work with them and alongside Hunger Free Oklahoma, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) hotline to help people get benefits; the Financial Empowerment Center in Tulsa, which helps people get out of debt, build credit and save for the future; Legal Aid, for tenants and others who have legal questions; the Department of Human Services; and other community partners.

We’ve talked a lot about the physical assistance we provide, but we maintain our desire to help people spiritually as well. I’m glad for our creative chapel program so we can continue to get this message out even in the middle of the pandemic. We’ve opened up a platform on our social media where people can regularly hear Wednesdays in the Word, a video series featuring pastors around the state who can offer a word of hope.

Stained glass window in the Restore Hope chapel. Archived photo.

I’m so thankful for pastors across the state who’ve donated their time. While all of this his happening, we know people are still having spiritual questions. It’s not required, but we try to let people know about the hope that we have.

Is there anything in particular you would like to add or emphasize?

We often talk about abundance, that when we’re doing the work of the kingdom, God provides, and sometimes God provides in really powerful ways. Sometimes when you’re helping with $3,000 in rent assistance, God says, here’s $4 million.

Sometimes one of the hardest things in the Christian journey is when God calls you to something hard, he also gives you the resources to do the hard thing. That doesn’t make it easy; it’s still hard, but it’s doable.

I know sometimes I’ve been faced with abundance but I’ve been scared and chosen scarcity. I’m so thankful that at Restore Hope we continue to choose to accept God’s abundance and I’m so glad God has given us these resources. It really feels like moving mountains. God says see that mountain of rent debt? I’ll move this mountain with this mountain of assistance. It’s really awesome to see God at work, and I’ve seen that time and time again in the past year.

It’s a difficult year with so many people suffering. It has been life giving for me to see that God is still there, and God is still calling us.

Just like God called the people in Jeremiah in the middle of exile to have kids and plant fields, in the middle of a pandemic, God has said, do the assistance, feed the kids, do the things that multiply and not divide. I’m glad Restore Hope is multiplying not dividing. §

 

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