What To Do If You Can’t Afford Basic Necessities


Studies conducted before the coronavirus pandemic found that about 40% of people in the United States struggle to afford basic necessities. Unfortunately, it is a common experience to struggle affording essentials such as food, toiletries, utility payments, rent, and healthcare.

Post-coronavirus pandemic, financial challenges have been magnified for households across the world. For months, people have been waiting for relief checks — and for many, these checks will only go toward debts incurred due to the pandemic. Having exhausted family generosity and having maxed out one’s credit, any stimulus payments received are gone as soon as they hit your account.

The questions of when and whether you’ll receive stimulus become irrelevant, when you realize one check is nowhere near enough. So what do you do if you can’t afford basic necessities? How do you quell the panic and make sure your basic needs are met? Below is a rundown of resources that can help.

Call 211

I can’t emphasize the value of the 211 hotline enough. 

When you don’t have basic necessities, finding what you need gets exhausting. It’s more exhausting than someone with the privilege of never having gone without can possibly imagine, and for many, it’s an added full-time job with little to no payout.

You find yourself overwhelmed with paperwork, questions, being forced to jump through hoops, and essentially taking a shot in the dark at all times when your life depends on it, and you are exhausted – so exhausted – that you just feel like falling to the floor and crying.

In the depths of financial despair, operators at 211 can walk you through your options. 211 is such an essential service, because the operators are able to connect you with a wide variety of resources and forms of support all in one place — just like in Supportiv chats. 

How can 211 help meet my basic needs?

211 can help with a variety of matters, including but not limited to: 

  • Helping meet basic needs. 211 can help you learn about food banks, clothing banks, rental assistance, utility assistance, and shelters in your area.
  • Learning about how to get healthcare, including information about state insurance and other resources for healthcare. 
  • Mental health services.
  • Drug and alcohol services and programs. 
  • Work support, which may include job training programs, help finding work, education programs, and more.
  • Transportation programs and services. 
  • Assistance with disability programs and support. 
  • Child and family support. 

Calling 211 allows you to ask about matters such as health care, nutrition access, and so on, all in one place. I highly recommend starting there if 211 is available in your local area. (It is available in most parts of 50 US states)

This public hotline provides you with specific information about what is available in your community. Depending on your area, 211 may be able to tell you about lesser-known programs and services that you don’t know about.

It’s a great first stop, because local is often the way to go for quick help. Navigating larger government systems alone may be challenging, and there may be more limitations to the support you can receive.

Struggle-Specific Resources

During the pandemic, you may find yourself struggling to secure multiple basic necessities. You might find yourself deciding between rent, loan or medical payments, or just the most basic of needs — food. In reality, all of these resources are necessary for us to live functional lives. The below resources can help you avoid sacrificing one basic need for another.

Rental Assistance

Local resources are often the best way to go for rental assistance. Go to your state government or county website, or conduct a web search with the words “rental assistance” and your location (for example, “rental assistance portland oregon”) to find local rental assistance services.  

Here is a rental assistance finder for local programs and state programs throughout the US: https://nlihc.org/rental-assistance. (This is another instance where calling 211 can help, if you aren’t sure where to get started.)

Food Banks And SNAP

Ah, food, the most basic of necessities. The process of applying for SNAP can be intimidating, and if you haven’t done it before, you might wonder where to start. 

Call your local state office if you need help filling out the snap paperwork or if, for those in domestic violence situations, you need to know what the safest and most discreet way of applying for snap benefits is for you. They will be able to give you directions on where to go to fill it out in person if you are having trouble doing it online or prefer to fill things out in person. There should also be a number to call for your local state office. 

Here is the link to the Government directory on how to find snap benefits and other SNAP-related resources in the United States: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory.  

There are also services like mRelief that can help you sign up for food stamps. Find mRelief and get started here: https://www.mrelief.com/.  

Mutual Aid

There is a long, rich history of mutual aid. Mutual aid is not at all new, though it is something that has gained a bit more public notoriety recently. First, you might be wondering, what is mutual aid? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mutual aid as: “reciprocal aid and cooperation.” 

In more simple terms, mutual aid is where are people donate or exchange money or goods to help others who are unable to afford or access basic necessities in their community. Necessities mutual aid covers include but are not limited to money to pay for utility bills and rent, rides to doctor’s appointments and other locations, supplies that a person needs and cannot access, or food. 

Look into mutual aid in your area, or go to the mutual aid hub website to see what is available near you: https://www.mutualaidhub.org

Note that the mutual aid hub is a collection of resources; it’s not affiliated with the particular local mutual aid organizations and resources that it lists.

Crowdfunding 

If applicable, crowdfunding may be beneficial. Statistics indicate that a large number of people have either given to or relied on crowdfunding, for things like medical care and saving themselves from losing their home or apartment. Crowdfunding may look like a campaign on a platform such as GoFundMe. Or, it may look like sharing your Venmo on social media alongside an explanation of what you’re going through. 

Benefits.gov 

Government benefits are often one of the first things people think of when they think of getting assistance for things like food, housing, and so on. However, there can be a lot of loopholes involved. It can be difficult to figure out what benefits you qualify for or how to apply for them. Here is a link to the benefit finder on benefits.gov: https://www.benefits.gov/benefit-finder. Using the benefit finder, you can see what you qualify for. On the benefits.gov website, there is also an article that directs people to a variety of resources specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Student Resources

If you are a college student, contact your student office and see what forms of support are available for students at your school. Student resources may range from food assistance to job support to legal help and more. Many schools also have on-campus mental health resources for those who need it. 

Also, look for scholarships and vouchers in your area or online. You may qualify for grants just on the basis of your student status. Often, these are designated for specific marginalized communities and groups. Scholarships and vouchers may be able to help you meet a variety of basic needs. 

Understanding Blame And Systemic Barriers 

There is a profound need for a collective understanding, not just in the United States, but across the globe, of systemic barriers that prevent individuals and families from getting what they need. Financial struggles do not reflect poorly on the individual struggling.

If you find yourself in need, remember the following:

It isn’t your fault. 

Every person and family deserves to have their basic needs met – no matter the circumstances.

Asking for help it’s not and never will be “taking advantage of the system.” The fact of the matter is that the system is broken and is created in such a way that keeps people struggling. 

Helping out when you’re not struggling…

Community care is vital, and if you are able to give, it is important that you do. Give to local individuals and trusted local aid organizations who prioritize transparency about how the money is used.

Alternatively, if you can give to a person directly, that is often the best way to help and know exactly where your money, items, or resources are going. You could be saving someone’s life, and with community aid, you know that in the future, someone would hopefully do the same for you. 

Acknowledge the inhumane reality of financial struggles

Learn about the difficulty of getting in – or staying in – shelters. Learn about how, if someone has more than a couple of thousand dollars, their disability benefits get taken away.

Learn about systemic barriers, and before you judge, remember: It could be you. 

There’s a lot of power in saying that the world isn’t where it should be. There’s power in saying that the resources we have aren’t enough; that we need to keep working to make the world a better place. We lift up those struggling, when acknowledge the work we as a society have to do.

It’s essential that we all, collectively, have our needs met, and that we all have access to basic necessities. Let’s continue to strive for a world where people do have what they need, a world where people don’t have to go without, a world where that is possible. It is vital both for us and for future generations to make the push for what’s right. 

Someone To Talk To 

The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult on all of us. Financially, emotionally, and otherwise. Social support is shown to benefit both emotional and physical wellbeing. If you need someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to reach out. This could mean talking to a loved one, seeing a counselor, therapist, or social worker, calling a free hotline, or using a peer support network like Supportiv