HARWICH — The Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk will be a virtual marathon this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also driving a more than 200 percent increase in requests for emergency help for families across the Cape.
For 28 years the Housing with Love Walk has been raising funds for a number of housing assistance organizations on the Cape and focusing on relocating families from motel units into suitable living quarters. That was the goal of the late Bob Murray, a founder of the Harwich Ecumenical Council for Housing and a housing advocate who worked tirelessly to provide better living conditions for families here.
For years Murray and a cadre of housing advocates would commit to walk from Provincetown to Falmouth each July to both focus on housing needs and raise funds to assist in obtaining housing goal. Those needs are extremely evident this year given the pandemic, its impacts on jobs, and the CARES Act unemployment assistance expiring along with moratoriums on rental increases and back rent payments coming due, said Kimberly Bourgea, director of housing programs and strategic initiatives for HECH.
“We have had a 266 percent increase in requests for emergency assistance this year over the same time last year,” Bourgea said.
She also pointed out HECH has had to close The Children’s Center, a preschool/childcare facility on Sisson Road serving 27 students which allowed parents to maintain jobs absent a concern for childcare. The provisions put in place under Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening Massachusetts guidelines created “a financial crisis for us,” Children’s Center Director Abby Newberry-West told The Chronicle in June.
The plan for this year’s Housing with Love Walk is to conduct a virtual marathon from Aug. 2 to 16. Anyone can participate in whatever way they like and whenever they like. She said participants can run, walk, bike or use a treadmill to travel the traditional 26.2 mile marathon distance. The event's goal is to raise $26,200, Bourgea said.
“Support is needed now more than ever,” she said. “HECH has seen a drastic increase in the need for housing and emergency assistance and The Children’s Center is working hard to re-open its early education and childcare programs when it is safe to do so, all while still offering tuition assistance to families facing financial hardship.”
HECH was fortunate a few years ago to receive an endowment from Elizabeth Arnold Stevens which is used each year to provide emergency assistance to help people across the Cape who are suffering a one-time financial crisis pay rent, mortgage or utility payments. The endowment generates between $13,000 to $16,000 a year to assist needy residents, but given financial conditions created by the pandemic, HECH has provided $14,000 in assistance from March to July. The organization will provide applicants between $700 and $1,000 to address an emergency situation. While requests are up 266 percent over last year, payments made to date are 327 percent higher than this time last year.
Bourgea said the funds are going to people in dire need throughout the Cape. HECH has also been reaching out to their tenants in the 48 units it has in Harwich, Dennis and Yarmouth on a monthly basis and, if necessary, directing them to various organizations should they need assistance.
“We are there to support them,” Bourgea said.
People have been quarantined and adhering to stay-at-home directives for a long time and the virtual marathon seemed like a good way to get people out, Bourgea said.
The first 100 people to register for the marathon will get a Bob Murray Housing with Love Virtual Marathon T-shirt and there will be prizes awarded at the end of the event for the top fundraisers, fastest times and best picture/video submitted. To register, visit www.hech.org.
“Your support helps further our mission to changes lives one child, one family and one home at a time,” she said.