Walking a mile in ALICE’s shoes

Hurricane Ian impacted working individuals of all incomes

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

A couple days following the landfall of Hurricane Ian in Charlotte County, I walked with my husband and my daughter around our cul-de-sac, checking in with our neighbors. While none of us experienced the devastation of a totally destroyed home, each family could list the new expenses that had cropped up literally overnight. Many families in my neighborhood, and I’m sure yours as well, lost at least a few days of work, reducing the income that would be available to support these newly incurred costs.

That walk gave me a renewed passion for ALICE.

There is a misconception that people who need financial assistance are lazy and not employed. The harsh reality is that many individuals and families, right here in Charlotte County, work hard every day and still struggle to make ends meet. These are our ALICE families.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These folks sometimes work more than one job to provide for their families, but rarely make enough to set aside funds for a rainy day. And Hurricane Ian brought a lot more than rain.

As of the 2020 ALICE Report, 30% of Charlotte County households (approximately 30,000 households) fell into the category of ALICE, while another 10% of Charlotte County households lived at the Federal Poverty Level. This means that close to half (40%) of Charlotte County households were struggling to meet basic needs even before this natural disaster blew through our neighborhoods.

And now, following Ian, many of us know what it feels like to work hard yet struggle to keep up with the costs we have to repair our homes and rebuild our lives. If we couldn’t relate to ALICE before, we can now.

United Way of Charlotte County launched the United at Work program to provide financial help to working individuals who were impacted by Hurricane Ian. As of our most recent reporting, we have distributed over $322,000 in assistance. Assistance can be for clothing, groceries or utilities, but seventy-five percent of funds so far have gone to cover housing costs.

A family reached out to our United at Work case manager recently and shared their experience. They have been struggling to make ends meet since the hurricane. They explained that they were emotionally drained from fighting with their insurance company. The stress of the situation was overwhelming, and their finances had become so stretched they had to take out a personal loan to cover their mortgage payment and other bills. Each week, they fell further and further behind.

United at Work was able to provide help for their mortgage and their utilities as well as a gift card for groceries. This helped get their family back to a more stable financial situation and gave them hope to move forward.

Over two hundred and fifty families, just like this one, have received help from United at Work. These are folks just like you and me who go to work every day to provide for their families, but sometimes, due to circumstances, it just isn’t enough.

As I walked the streets with my family that late September evening, I was walking in ALICE’s shoes. I felt fatigue and stress and sadness. I felt gratitude for the little things, and I felt hope when those around me offered their assistance. I had an overwhelming To Do list, but I pulled myself up by my metaphorical bootstraps and trudged on, just like ALICE.

United at Work was designed to be an avenue for Charlotte County residents to give help and to get help, depending what shoes you are walking in today. United Way of Charlotte County will be in attendance at the Feb. 2 Annual Business Expo at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center to share more about this program.

To give help through United at Work, donations can be made online at unitedwayccfl.org/unitedatwork. Donations are being matched, up to $500,000, by the Elsa & Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation.

If you work for a Charlotte County employer and would like to get help through United at Work, complete the basic form at unitedwayccfl.org/gethelp.  

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at director@unitedwayccfl.org.