The United States has always been a land of the haves and have nots, an empire built on the sands of discrimination and inequity. Like most things sustained on such a weak foundation, this nation is always one hurricane away from crumbling. For many, COVID-19 has been the storm that has exposed this truth.
For those of us who have lived paycheck to paycheck or worried about where we were going to find money for our next meal, the current health crisis is just another moment in a string of unfortunate events created by American greed. The same greed that is forcing citizens to continue to pay rent during a pandemic that has already decimated our economy.
To date, more than 25 million people have filed for unemployment and many of those same people are now left with decisions such as paying for medication and groceries or keeping a roof over their head. The types of decisions that I’m all too familiar with, having watched generations of my own family—and myself at times—struggle to make them.
Which is why over the past few months I’ve joined millions of people in pleading with elected officials to do their part in suspending or canceling rent. This effort is not for the sake of preference, but rather rather the sake of survival, as nearly a third of renters in the United States found themselves unable to make their April payment.
As I’ve watched other countries such as France suspend rent and utility payments to alleviate the pressure on their citizens, it has left me saddened, but not surprised that America has not done the same. But as a person with the privilege of a platform and a history of fundraising, I couldn’t simply stand by and watch America fail us—again.
After raising $40,000 on GoFundMe to support the Food Bank of New York, I had a conversation with their executive team about what else could be done to help people. From that conversation, the #RentRelief GoFundMe campaign was born.
The campaign is an attempt to provide direct aid to folks who are in need of help during the COVID-19 pandemic by giving them a few hundred dollars through CashApp, Zelle or PayPal toward their rent, groceries or other expenses.
The way it works is simple: people reply or comment to my designated posts on Twitter or Instagram, and my team and I choose up to 50 people per day to receive $200 each. We have a vetting process to confirm the identities of those chosen. The process is quick and removes many of the roadblocks they face receiving support through other means.
The goal has been to create an innovative relief program to meet the needs of an unprecedented moment. Thus far, we’ve been able to give away over $270,000 to support more than 1,300 people.
The folks we’ve helped have been from all over the country and the world, dealing with varied types of hardship. People like Precious, who is having trouble finding help for her and her two sons while navigating being immunocompromised and losing her job. My fiancé and I were so moved by Precious’s story that we gave her an extra $400.
The reality is that every day the hardship that Precious is facing is becoming more of the rule than the exception in a country without an adequate safety net provided for those struggling.
I don’t look at this campaign as a replacement for the work of nonprofits or the government, but rather an additional avenue on what is going to be a long road.
Everyone needs to be doing their part to support one another; it’s the only way we make it out of this moment. Especially as our government continues to offer lackluster plans that don’t scratch the surface of meeting unprecedented need caused by this nation’s history of class and racial warfare.
Sadly, there are millions of our brothers and sisters going through hardship, and resources are scarce—including those of our campaign. The storm is here, and I hope others continue to support me in helping people brave it.
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