The upheaval of the past several months of the COVID-19 pandemic has created financial uncertainty, instability and stress for many within San Miguel County, in some cases pushing residents close to the brink of disaster. At Monday’s intergovernmental Zoom meeting, Carol Friedrich, the county’s social services director, updated officials on what’s being done to ensure that the most vulnerable of the county’s population are able to meet their needs.
At the end of April, local officials and representatives from nonprofits and the school district formed an unmet needs group to identify critical needs within the community, analyze the resources that currently exist and to seek solutions to remaining concerns. The group, composed of community members who often work closely with those most at risk of having unmet needs, identified eight categories of need that included food security, housing, behavioral health, financial assistance, spiritual needs, educational needs, connectivity for seniors and access to reliable information.
“There are quite a few things happening within the community around making sure that people have enough to eat and making sure that people have resources to do that,” said Friedrich, regarding food security, citing programs such as the food banks, the delivery of school lunches and a new program delivering meals to seniors three times per week, thanks to a collaboration between local restaurants, Tri-County Health and volunteers. She also noted that the department of social services has removed the interview requirement for those applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps.
The county has also allocated funds to meet mental health care needs, with $60,000 going to the Good Neighbor Fund at the Telluride Foundation for mental health services, and another $60,000 set aside for local agencies to apply for funding to provide mental health services. The Center for Mental Health has also set up a “warmline” for those who are not experiencing an immediate crisis but would like support for anxiety, depression or stress.
Other programs have responded to the need for financial assistance. The Good Neighbor Fund is accepting applications for grants to cover needs such as rent, car payments, utilities and food, among other needs, while the county’s human services department offers access to qualifying families for grants of $1,500. Meanwhile, agencies and local organizations have provided financial assistance to local licensed child care providers to help protect their ability to meet their expenses and reopen when public health orders allow.
Paul Major, president and CEO of the Telluride Foundation, also emphasized the urgent need brought on by the current crisis in areas such as housing, food, medicine and transportation, and added connectivity as a lesser-considered-but-critical need. Connectivity, via internet and cellphone services, not only provides residents with much-needed social connection but with reliable, factual information regarding the pandemic, public health and access to resources.
“We’ve got to focus greater efforts into broadband and internet connections in this region,” Major said. “This just exposes the inequities that fall on isolated, undocumented immigrants because they can’t get access to services because they can’t get to the internet.”
He also expressed his gratitude for the generosity of the Telluride and regional communities, reporting a fundraising total of $770,000, donated in amounts ranging from $40 to $100,000, raised since mid-March when the foundation began taking action to meet the needs of the community, as it weathered the storm of closures and unemployment. Approximately $40,000 per week is currently being dispensed via grants through the Good Neighbor Fund, not including the foundation’s emergency grants, which can be processed as quickly as under 24 hours. Bonnie Watson, the foundation’s regional capital advisor, also spoke about the foundation’s work with small businesses in the region to assess their needs and pivot to a business model capable of surviving the pandemic.
Uncertainty, however, remains at the forefront for those working on meeting the needs of the community into the future.
“We don’t know how long this is going to go on,” Major said, emphasizing that even as the economy begins to reopen, there will still be a large number of unemployed community members who will need assistance.
“The takeaway is that we’ve got to raise as many resources as we can possibly raise because we just don’t know the answer to how long this will continue,” he said.