With eviction moratoriums being phased out in Minnesota by June 1, 2022, community organizations like Mahube-Otwa that are fighting homelessness and poverty are using their recent grant funding windfall to help those struggling to find a solid foothold.
The nonprofit, whose name is composed of the abbreviations for the counties they serve, has been hiring online navigators to their staff of nearly 165 across five different counties to assist individuals with web portals and the complicated processes of applying for government relief programs.
"Our purpose in life is to help end poverty and help to create self-sufficiency for people," said Liz Kuoppala, executive director for Mahube-Otwa. "I just really believe in upward mobility is within everybody and that people who are in poverty have the same potential as anyone else, they just sometimes don't have the same opportunity … we're trying to match up opportunities to the potential that already exists in our communities."
She said the nonprofit is shifting to a results-based metric for gauging the group's success instead of just tallying how many services they provided to individuals through their programs. Pulling people out of poverty should be the measure for success, not just how many people the group helped with energy assistance, Kuoppala said.
The organization received $46,000 in grant funding from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development on Aug. 17. Kuoppala said the money will be used to offset cost and subsidize wages for their youth internship program, a 12-week work program designed to provide individuals with help in establishing employment credentials.
"One of the issues that has come up is some people who don't have much work experience, or have negative work experience," she said. "Sometimes they just need … somebody to give them a try, and we know from talking to our community partners that there are high demand careers that someone could get a start by working with us."
Muhube-Otwa created different tracks for various career paths to help employment seekers who might want to try a 12-week internship to see if they like the field before committing to full employment. Currently, they offer an early-childhood track, an IT services track, a weatherization track involving heating and cooling systems and an office track, she said.
In December, Mahube-Otwa received a $2.5 million grant from the Day 1 Family Fund, launched in 2018 by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to continue their work to creating positive outcomes for their struggling individuals with homelessness and combating poverty.
The nonprofit divided up the lump-sum grant into four years of funding through 2025 and will use it to reduce the case loads of their staff members. Typically, caseworkers could manage up to 60 different families and their needs, Kuoppala said, but her goal was to reduce that caseload to between 15 to 20 families per staffer, which would allow for a lot more case time that could make a real difference.
With eviction moratoriums phasing out in Minnesota, she said, it's really important that individuals experiencing COVID-related rent issues submit an emergency rental assistance application before the Oct. 12 deadline, when landlords will be able to file eviction notices for nonpayment unless the tenant has a pending emergency assistance application.
"Some of the folks who have gotten behind on their rent have never asked for help before," she said. "I'm just really afraid of the numbers of people who still don't know, or are too timid about asking (Mahube-Otwa) for help."
Kuoppala said the organization has helped submit more than 2.5 million applications for housing assistance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Muhube-Otwa also has some staff openings across their network of facilities and anyone interested in being of service to their community is encouraged to apply through their website. The group serves communities across Mahnomen, Hubbard, Becker, Otter Tail and Wadena Counties and anyone interested in the organization should visit the non-profit's website or Facebook page, said Kuoppala.
"I think with Mahube having been here for over 50 years, I think it has that reputation … and it has tapped into people that have a heart for service," said Lisa Mistic, community engagement manager at Mahube-Otwa in Detroit Lakes. "Everybody here, I would say, is a great source of information. If we don't have it, we probably know where to send you."