IRVINE, Calif.—Orange County’s food pantries and homeless shelters have seen an increase in daily visitors amid COVID-19’s economic impacts, according to Share Our Selves (SOS) Director of Social Services Michael McGlinn.
“There not only are more people that are coming by to pick up food for their lunches at work and more elderly stopping by nowadays, there are also more people coming to SOS who have never been to a food pantry before,” McGlinn told The Epoch Times.
In the three months prior to the pandemic, SOS’s food pantry saw about 170 visitors per day. Now, its sees anywhere from 250 to 300 people per day.
Approaching Great Recession Numbers
“We’ve seen new faces and some old faces return,” McGlinn said. “A gentleman that had gotten himself back on his feet after being a regular at SOS about two years ago is now back in our food lines. He was let go at work and has been having difficulty keeping up with his rent.”
There’s also been a larger volume of elderly stopping by the pantry for the first time. This is worrisome, McGlinn said, since they’re in the high-risk group for COVID-19 transmission.
“I have a gentleman who comes through each and every day. … He lives in the area just down the street from here, and he’s 83 years old, and that’s not uncommon,” he said.
A woman who stopped by recently told him she had never been to a pantry before but needed food for dinner that evening. Another man told McGlinn that before the pandemic, he had only come to SOS during the 2008 recession.
“In between those two big events, he has been able to take care of himself,” McGlinn said.
During the recession, SOS averaged about 217 food bags per day. But in 2009, that number surged to 259 bags per day once the effects of the crisis sank in.
“Since the stay-at-home orders in mid-March, we’ve been averaging a tick under that 2009 average, with 258 a day. We’re worried about an increase in those numbers as the stimulus package stalls,” he said.
Federal talks on a new stimulus package have stalled as lawmakers fail to agree on the terms, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sept. 6 on Fox News that GOP senators will roll out “a more targeted bill” this week with hopes of getting some funds out immediately as they negotiate the allocation of more funds.
SOS is a federally funded health center that has served the county’s homeless population with medical and social services for the last 50 years in Costa Mesa. McGlinn has been volunteering with SOS since the 1980s. His mother, Karen, was a founding board member and the organization’s CEO from 1993 to 2019.
McGlinn anticipates a flood of people coming to SOS for help as evictions resume in September.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will give SOS $37,000 from its Emergency Food and Shelter Program, McGlinn said, which will help SOS provide rent assistance.
“But we’ll go through that very quickly,” he said. SOS is looking to secure more funding “to try to save families from evictions and the terrible experience of homelessness.”
“We get hundreds of requests a month … [and] we anticipate many, many more in the months ahead.”
It’s far more expensive and traumatic to get someone back into housing once it’s been lost, than to assist with rent, he said.
The annual Orange County Community Indicators Report in 2019 found that housing costs were rising more quickly than wages. To afford a one-bedroom apartment, residents would need to earn $31.38 per hour, equivalent to an annual income of $66,310.
A minimum wage worker in Orange County would have to work 105 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment, 131 hours to afford a two-bedroom, and 183 hours to afford a three-bedroom.
“So it’s expensive to live in Orange County, the most expensive county in SoCal, and you often need two wages to afford rent,” McGlinn said. “Therefore, if someone is working for minimum wage or loses a job or if a relationship dissolves for some reason, homelessness becomes a real prospect.”
Not everyone who is homeless “looks the part,” he said. The homeless population is greater than those who are visibly living on the streets.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come up in here, dressed very nicely going on to their job, but they are living in their vehicles,” he said.
But there’s a silver lining amid the many worries of those working on homeless outreach. McGlinn gets to see generosity and community spirit firsthand.
Sprouts, Dunkin’ Donuts, and many other local restaurants and grocery stores regularly donate to the pantry. An anonymous donor recently provided SOS with a substantial injection of funds.
“People are coming by pretty regularly and dropping off food. That’s great to see, it really is,” McGlinn said.
But even still, “the demand is far greater” than what is being generously given.