A new project aimed at helping those facing eviction became a reality this week when the group received a $50,000 grant.

The Eviction Prevention Project was the 2018 recipient of the Mayo Clinic Shared Value Award. The project is a collaboration of Legal Assistance of Olmsted County, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Olmsted County District Court.

“The Mayo Shared Values Award is really an award given out to promote community health and while eviction prevention may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you look at health … it fits perfectly within the Mayo Shared Values Award,” said Karen Fairbairn Nath, executive director of Legal Assistance of Olmsted County. “When somebody is being threatened with an eviction, it is an incredible stressor in their lives and if they have an attorney or if they have legal help they can turn to, it is helping them not only deal with the legal issues, it’s helping really from a mental health perspective.”

The Thursday morning clinics at the Olmsted County District Court House are expected to begin in December. In addition to providing legal counsel to those who qualify, Fairbairn Nath said the clinic will also help people determine if there may be sources of public funding to help them.

The clinic is intended for low-income individuals in the county who may not be able to hire an attorney to represent them during the eviction process which Fairbairn Nath said will level the playing field for tenants.

The Mayo Shared Value Award was started in 2016 and is used to fund efforts that will improve health in the community using cross-sector collaboration to address complex challenges, such as poverty, homelessness, mental health, obesity, diabetes and disease prevention, according to the Mayo’s Office of Community Engagement.

This is the first year that community members were allowed to vote for the winner. The Eviction Project was one of three finalists along with the Healthy Families Thrive initiative by The Minnesota Children’s Museum which aimed to offer free immunizations and other preventive health care at family events and Students Speak by the Rochester Public Schools which would host community conversations about mental health.

There are approximately 350 eviction cases every year in Olmsted County and the project is expected to help provide legal assistance for up to 100 families to prevent eviction as well as financial counseling through Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, according to Fairbairn Nath.

“If we have helped an individual prevent an eviction, we want to do everything we can to help them be more financially competent,” she said. “We don’t just want to help a person prevent being evicted on a certain month and then encounter them in the following month. We want to help them understand their own financial situation so they are capable of paying their rent every month on time.”

That is where the partnership with Lutheran Social Service comes in.

The organization will provide longer term “more holistic financial counseling so that we can stabilize and hopefully improve their financial situation longer team,” said Cate Rysavy, senior director of financial services for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

The social service organization opened its Rochester office in 2017 and this is the first of its kind partnership for the group.

Rysavy said with rising housing costs and stagnant wages, there a lot of low-to-moderate income families who are working hard and still facing eviction. Fairbairn Nath echoed that sentiment saying that there are many people in the community who are one pay check away from being evicted or losing their home.

Fairbairn Nath said the group is thankful for the community’s support and the award which will be one way to help address homelessness in the community by preventing eviction. At the moment, this is the project’s only funding source and is only for one year but Fairbairn Nath said the group is already looking into how they can continue the project after the Mayo grant.

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