Richland County Council is pledging $150,000 and seeking to enhance the efforts of social service agencies to aid the displaced residents of Allen Benedict Court Apartments.
At its meeting Feb. 5, Council voted unanimously to provide funding to assist residents with day-to-day necessities. Council directed Richland County staff to coordinate with the City of Columbia and various community agencies that are helping the more than 400 residents who had to vacate the apartment complex last month following a gas leak that resulted in the death of two men.
“The Council’s women thought it would be good to reach out to our citizens and their children who have been displaced during this crisis,” said Vice Chair Dalhi Myers, District 10. “While they have been blessed to receive an outpouring of community support in the form of dry goods, non-perishable foods, toiletries, and other sundries, we have been concerned that there may be times when emergency medicines, access to laundry facilities and after school care may now be out of reach for these residents.”
An implementation plan is being developed by staff for Council approval before the funding is provided. It is expected a plan will be presented to Council when it meets Feb. 19. Council wants to ensure agencies receiving funding will use the money specifically to provide direct assistance to the displaced residents. The organizations must use the funding to help residents through food distribution, laundry services and relocation assistance.
“We can’t give them a new home,” Myers said. “But we can make their temporary home a little happier.”
In addition to working with the City of Columbia, the County plans to work with three principal partners – United Way of the Midlands, Christ Central Ministries and Harvest Hope Food Bank. The County also will collaborate with Richland Library, The COMET and the Richland County Recreation Commission to ensure residents’ needs are being met.
“Along with our colleagues, we thought our excellent staff, using Richland County’s powerful network ... and other agencies funded by our taxpayers, was in the best position to meet these citizens’ emergency ‘wrap around’ needs in a more fulsome way,” Myers said.
All agencies receiving funding to help the residents will be subject to an audit conducted by the County’s Budget and Grants Management Department. Each group receiving funds must sign a grant agreement and submit a plan of action on how it will use the funding.
“The fact that our existing Budget and Grants Management Department has been deployed to ensure every dollar goes to the right place and reaches those in need should provide taxpayers great comfort,” Myers said.
To further assist the residents, Richland County Government employees started a campaign – separate from Council’s action – to collect gift cards for the residents of Allen Benedict Court, which is located less than a mile from the County Administration Building.
“Richland County employees work every day to serve the public,” said Interim Administrator Ed Gomeau. “Helping in this way is simply an extension of their service to others.”