Hundreds wait in the cold seeking rental assistance

A line wrapped around a health clinic during a Lincoln rental assistance event.
A line wrapped around a health clinic during a Lincoln rental assistance event.(John Grinvalds)
Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 11:07 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A Lincoln event meant to help people apply for some pandemic financial assistance left hundreds stranded in the cold. Organizers met lines full of hundreds more people than expected, and desperation led to confusion, disappointment and even some jostling in the crowd.

Around 1,000 residents came to the Health 360 clinic on Friday hoping to get pandemic relief through the City of Lincoln.

“Clearly it says there’s a lot of unmet need out there,” said Wynn Hjermstad, the Lincoln community development manager.

By the end of December, the checks for this federal assistance won’t come anymore.

“The purpose of the event was to provide rent and utility assistance for people that are behind on rent or are needing rental assistance for December,” said Hjermstad.

Lately, the number of online applications for this same type of assistance has drastically gone down, so organizers say they only expected around 100 people to show up to apply in-person. But, when the event started at 2 p.m., it was clear that assumption was way off.

It was a clarion call for help in a community grappling with the long-term social and economic effects of COVID-19.

“People that are vulnerable already and then were impacted by COVID on top of it all, it just takes so long to recover from that,” Hjermstad said.

The event was only three hours long, and most of the people who waited in line outside did not get in to apply. Instead, volunteers came out with clipboards, getting people’s names and contact information, including Juanita Shaner. She said she needs help with utilities and braved the cold in a sweatshirt to attend this event, not expecting to have to wait outside.

“I’m trying to get caught up, I’ll be having it shut off on the 21st if I can’t pay it,” she said. “I have a cleaning service, and I had clients that didn’t want me to come anymore because of the COVID.”

The city says it will get help from various non-profits to reach out to those like Shaner who couldn’t apply at this event. It will take work, but officials are hopeful they’ll reach everyone who showed up.

City officials are confident they have the money to get aid to those in need of it. It’s just a race against that end of December deadline.