Magazine article Policy & Practice

Relevant and Accessible Services to the Community

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Relevant and Accessible Services to the Community

Article excerpt

The Brookings Institution just released a study that shows that poverty is moving from inner city neighborhoods to the suburbs. Montgomery County, Md., is no exception. The number of students who are participating in the free and reduced meal subsidy program in our public school system has grown to 36,000 in a school system of some 120,000 students. Since 39 percent of the county's population is foreign born and 44 percent is ethnic minority, this brings many complexities in the delivery of social and health services. Over a year ago as we analyzed the numbers of applications we were receiving for emergency assistance, utility assistance and rental assistance, we were struck by the high levels of economic distress in six of our ZIP codes. This finding then led to our Safety Net Initiative. This initiative is a confluence of four critical components:

* Delivering much-needed emergency economic aid directly in distressed neighborhoods by the public-sector agency and providing access to a broad spectrum of health and human services at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services through an integrated intake and service delivery mechanism

* Partnering with a community non profit that functions as an anchor site providing space, resources and the credibility of its name to ensure that fear of government services does not inhibit much-needed access to care for consumers

* Engaging the community through effective community organizing to change the safety-net paradigm and support the natural neighborhood leaders as they assume the role of resident connectors to basic health and human service needs--community organizing results in a neighborhood safety net site that is robust and dynamic and very responsive to multiple community needs

* Partnering with philanthropy so that charitable giving in the county coalesces around the safety net goals that the partnership identifies, thus further supporting the development of the safety net

There were many other unique and innovative features. Hiring welfare recipients and unemployed residents, who were natural leaders, as connectors who would hold hands with our consumers to help them complete intimidating public aid applications, was a key strategy. Placing kiosks in these local safety-net offices to support self-service goals was another. Hiring bilingual staff and resident connectors who would be responsive to consumer needs and could knock on doors to create community awareness was a third. Since the opening of the first center in February 2009, we now operate in three locations. We have served almost 2,000 households by opening these neighborhood sites and are testing a model of community engagement that has promise for transforming neighborhoods and the way the public-private partnership that supports the safety net is structured. …

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