Many agencies were not prepared for what came mid-March, when the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic was truly felt in our region. Around that time, Guillermo Velázquez, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation (PHDC), was closely watching the events unfolding in Europe. Once the stay-at-home was implemented in PA, he realized it was only a matter of time for radical changes to hit the area’s Hispanic community.

The Beechview area and the south of Pittsburgh, where PHDC is located, have the most significant concentration of Hispanics locally. Many work in industries where closures and staff layoffs hit first, like construction and restaurants.

For them, the lack of resources and the language barrier make an already challenging income and job loss situation even more daunting.

 “The immigrant community does not have the same scope of benefits that standard citizens do. Organizations like PHDC are advocating to raise funds to compensate for the lack of access. Our goal is to meet the needs of the group by trying to maximize all available resources,” said Velázquez.

Understanding the Challenges of the Community

Initially, PHDC’s two full-time employees and two volunteers, focused on understanding the community’s situation and their specific needs.

They called those registered with their housing and entrepreneurship programs to assess their challenges. Many were fearful and just receiving the personal call was very encouraging.

Once the community development organization understood the needs, they set out to get assistance through established connections. They also began offering webinars to stay virtually connected with the community.

Thanks to a new contact with the city, PHDC joined forums working to ensure that the region’s immigrant community was considered in COVID-19 support strategies. They advocated for assistance and set up a plan of action to help local Latinos, mostly Spanish-speaking, stay afloat during this uncertain time.

Helping Latino Families Stay Home

When talking to families, PHDC got a clear idea of who would or would not be able to pay their housing bills. The team requested support for these families through the city’s or other available programs. They sent letters to landlords communicating they were assisting tenants, many with children in the household, in meeting their payment obligations. They have been able to coordinate full or partial payments for many and helped those families stay home.

Supporting Entrepreneurs and Business-owners

In its entrepreneurship program, Guillermo Velázquez and his staff are supporting newly established companies complete IRS paperwork, set up bank accounts, and publish websites. For businesses already established that can transition online, the organization has helped with new business plan creation. They also provided assistance with loan applications for those who qualified for financial assistance through the government or other financial entities.

Assisting the Unemployed

When Latinos settle in the city, they typically reach out to PHDC for assistance in finding jobs. The organization helps with resume prep, job applications, and readying applicants for job interviews. With the COVID-19 challenges, they are now helping people who have lost their jobs apply for unemployment benefits. In this group, many people are fearful of completing English forms properly. They need guidance. PHDC provides help with form completion, CareerLink registrations, gathering all the required documents, PIN creation, and more.

Guillermo Velázquez emphasized that “communication with foundations and donors has been key in accessing aid for the community. We have ensured that available funds reach the disadvantaged Hispanic families and business owners who need it most.”

So far Velázquez and his team have provided assistance to over 75 local Latino families, business owners, and individuals.

With no normalcy in sight for our region and nation, PHDC gets used to their new normal – addressing the daily requests for AYUDA (help) from the Latino community who love and call Pittsburgh home.

Those in need of assistance can reach PHDC at 412-343-0545, via Facebook or their website www.PHDCincubator.org.

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