MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A nonprofit organization in Muskegon is working to help families who have fallen behind on rent payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, the state sent about $780,000 to Community enCompass for a program called Eviction Diversion. Community enCompass, which reports Muskegon County’s eviction rate as four times the national average, says the program is incredibly valuable to its community.

“It’s something that we always say: A family or a household is just one disaster or paycheck away from feeling financial hardship. That can really have huge ramifications and this is that,” Michael Ramsey, the director of homeless services at Community enCompass and also a Muskegon city commissioner, said. “If you don’t have safe and secure and sustainable housing then everything else is up in the air.”

Ramsey says the money can be used for back payment through March 1. He said the organization can also provide dollars for rent payments up to two months in the future, though there is a cap on the amount of money each household can receive.

The nonprofit says so far, it has given away about $200,000 to help about 40 families.

Ramsey said many families that would not have normally qualified for traditional housing assistance before the pandemic could receive money through this program, which has a lot more flexibility.

“What we’re really seeing is people who never had to access services before are being able to utilize this for the first time,” Ramsey said.

The Muskegon area saw huge impacts due to the pandemic. In February, Muskegon reported an unemployment rate of 3.8%. In April, it spiked to 29.1%. Community enCompass said job loss in the area put many families at risk of losing their housing.

The nonprofit says there is also money available for help with utilities and services available to help people find jobs. It says its goal is to get families back on their feet, not apply a Band-Aid solution that could put them in a similar place if the pandemic does not let up by the end of the year.

“It’s very hard for people to ask for help,” Ramsey said. “Unfortunately, in our country we really drill down into people’s brains that if they need assistance that that’s a bad thing and they should be ashamed and that’s not the case at all, ever, but particularly now because so many families and households are being affected that have never had to ask for assistance before.”

Community enCompass says it has the Eviction Diversion money to give away until Dec. 31; any money that it hasn’t distributed by the end of the year will be sent back to the state. The organization says it is hoping to find as many families as possible to help.

To apply for funds, call Community enCompass at 231.728.3117.