ORLEANS – The Lower Cape is a place where people can spend $100 on a T-shirt, $200 on a kicky pair of sandals, and $12 on a cheeseburger. It is also where the Lower Cape Outreach Council spent an additional $95,000 on client services from January to May of this year, much of it trying to keep area residents in their homes.
“The biggest area of expense is mortgages and rents,” said Larry Marsland, CEO of the Lower Cape Outreach Council (LCOC). “When our clients come here and can't pay the rent and are afraid they're going to be evicted, we catch them up on the rent, because we know that once you're evicted on Cape Cod, you're sunk.”
Marsland said that in 2017, the Council spent approximately $217,000 between Jan. 1 and May 31 on client assistance, versus roughly $313,000 during the same time period in 2018. He is quick to note that those needing assistance are dedicated workers, often from homes with two working adults in the household.
“We tell them to target all of their income towards holding onto the home,” he said. “Then come here and shop for groceries in our food pantries.”
The LCOC provides what Marsland dubbed “wraparound services.”
“If you don't qualify for federal assistance, we pay for the heat. We keep the lights on. We pick up all of the peripheral costs so people can hold onto their homes. This is life on Cape Cod, the part that the summer visitors know nothing about. People who are OK have no concept of how grim the problem is.”
Marsland said a major factor not only on the Lower Cape but across the peninsula is that wages here are low and rents are extremely high and continue to rise sharply. Conversely, a large segment of the Cape's real estate is second homes for people who typically visit during the summer months and either aren't aware of the need for affordable housing or oppose the concept.
“There are all kinds of wonderful organizations, wonderful people who are talking about affordable housing,” Marsland said. “About 250 households are remaining intact because we're keeping them intact.”
Marsland questions the idea of an improved economy given the alarming number of people in need of assistance so far this year.
“It is not trickling down,” he said. “I don't know where it trickles to, but trickle down economy has never worked in my lifetime. I haven't a clue what's going to be done about it. It's a huge problem and every major non-profit agency is concerned about it.”
The issue goes beyond housing and into the need for food as well, Marsland said.
“The Family Pantry in Harwich opened an extra day to accommodate people needing food,” he said. “It's really sad when people who work full time have to go to a food pantry to feed their kids.”
“We picked up an additional shift, Wednesdays from 10 to noon,” said Christine Menard, executive director of The Family Pantry. “We had so many people coming on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Visits are up 23 percent, and new clients are up almost 12 percent.”
The Pantry distributes more than $3.5 million in food and clothing annually, and 60 percent of all food provided by the Pantry is purchased rather than donated.
“We buy all of our food from the Greater Boston Food Bank,” said Menard.
Since such a significant purchase makes every donation increasingly valuable, and since the summer months can be the most challenging time for the Pantry, Menard said last year they began a July campaign that works in tandem with Chronicle's Helping Neighbors program.
“That's how we're getting through,” Menard said. Somehow the community always comes through for us.”
Menard said impacting many summer clients are the changes regarding H2B visas.
“Normally these people could work two or three jobs in the summer,” Menard said. “Now they're not getting as many hours as they once did. The rest is just pure demand. Our demand year-to-date has continued to climb every year.”
It comes down to the challenge of earning a living wage on Cape Cod.
“A living wage on Cape Cod is $24 an hour,” said Menard, noting that not many people make that much. “Everybody's working. They're just not making enough to get by.”
Menard is immensely grateful to the community for its support of the Pantry and its efforts to care for community members in need.
“It's not without a lot of work, don't get me wrong,” Menard said. “But we're always able to pull through.”
To help people navigate their way out of jobs paying $8 to $12 an hour, well below the living wage, or jobs that are only seasonal, Marsland said the LCOC has opened something of a job center in Orleans, where, one client at a time, they prepare people to go on job interviews and to reconsider areas of employment so they include lasting jobs, ideally with benefits. They also provide partial and full tuition for people to attend certificate programs at Cape Cod Community College and Cape Cod Tech.
“We've gotten 75 people out of convenience store jobs and into jobs that are more career oriented,” Marsland said. “If you go and get a certificate, suddenly you have a full-time job with a predictable schedule, benefits, and jobs with a career path, should you be interested in pursuing a career path.”
That, Marsland said, makes it easier for residents to find childcare and obtain career opportunities they might not have had in the past. But all of the assistance the LCOC provides is due to the generosity of its many volunteers and donors.
“We do two major direct marketing campaigns every year, one during the holidays and one in the summer, and people donate money to us all year round,” said Marsland. “People who are aware of what's going on are very generous and helpful.”
Some 429 volunteers help operate the food pantries on the lower Cape, as well as staff LCOC offices, mentor clients, operate the free clothing store, and the Hope Chest consignment store.
“Everything we do is really volunteer driven, and we've been doing it since 1980,” Marsland said.
While Marsland admits he doesn't have the answers to the Cape's housing problems, he emphasizes a need for people to care and to be open to change in their own communities.
“We need more affordable housing being built, and from a personal, human level it's got to be 'in my neighborhood,'” said Marsland. “Otherwise there isn't any hope. We're losing young families on Cape Cod in droves because they can't sustain themselves. We need young workers here. We can't become a peninsula of retirees. There won't be anybody to do the work, for one thing.”
In response to the accusation that many financially challenged people dupe the system, Marsland scoffs.
“The percentage of people 'playing the system' is so minuscule,” said Marsland. “I think it's an excuse for people not to care.”
For those that do care, the LCOC is holding two key summer fundraising events, the Restaurant Blowout in which those who purchase tickets have the chance to win gift certificates to area eateries, with the proceeds helping keep the eight LCOC food pantries stocked, and the Summer of Hope in which people can drop money in jars stationed in local businesses, or make donations online or through the mail.
“I hate to sound so mercenary, but it's about money,” Marsland said. Money that will help folks on the Lower Cape remain in their homes and have enough to eat.
“It doesn't get more basic and fundamental than that,” he said. “You talk about basic human rights, I think that anyone who works full time has the right to eat food and to full-time shelter. We've got to find a way to give people a little dignity in this world. We all have to give a damn. It's not enough that I'm OK. How many lives have to be damaged before there's a wake up?”
To make a 100 percent tax-deductible donation to the Summer of Hope campaign, send checks to the Lower Cape Outreach Council, PO Box 665, Orleans, MA, 02653. To purchase tickets in the Restaurant Blowout visit lcoutreach.org/15th-annual-super-restaurant-blowout.