ROCKFORD — The city’s community service staffers are fielding about a dozen calls a day from people who are out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic and can no longer pay their rent.


The Human Services Department, which serves as a regional Community Action Agency, gets calls from across Boone and Winnebago counties, but mostly from Rockford, said Community Services Director Jennifer Jaeger. The majority of them have never before sought help from the office, she said.


Although the courts aren’t hearing eviction cases right now, renters still owe landlords for any months they fall behind in rent.


“A lot of these people have never been in that position before and don’t want to be,” Jaeger said. “We are seeing people who are new to our system. We are trying to help as many as efficiently as we can.”


Through the fourth week of April alone, community services staff fielded 233 requests for rental assistance. By comparison, in all of July, August and September of 2019, the staff fielded 110 such requests.


They are out-of-work restaurant servers, a chef in a restaurant that has closed because of the pandemic, a driver whose jobs have dried up with few clients traveling, and dozens of others. They are all falling behind on their rent as they deplete their savings, Jaeger said.


In addition, dozens more people are living in shelters who Jaeger said should be moved to permanent housing.


Jaeger is hopeful that the city will have enough federal funding to assist those in need. The city is being awarded $636,693 in supplemental Emergency Solutions Grant funds as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.


The money is reserved for preventing COVID-19 related homelessness among people with very low incomes and is paid directly to landlords.


That is in addition to the roughly $900,000 the city gets annually in homelessness prevention and rental assistance funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and $345,000 from the Illinois Department of Human Services for the rapid rehousing of people who are homeless.


The city has 20 community service employees and three-quarters of them have been reassigned to assisting residents with COVID-19 related problems. Although they are working with a full staff in its downtown offices, 612 N. Church St., it is closed to the public. All applications for rental assistance are being done by phone, email and fax. Some are dropping documents off via a drop box.The agency can be reached toll free at 844-710-6919 or via email at csbg.administration@rockfordil.gov.


Jeff Kolkey: jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey