COVID-19 has exposed significant gaps in our country’s social safety net and Frederick is not immune. There are folks who are the hardest to serve, pandemic or not, who were at the crux of the issue downtown pre-pandemic.
There are lots of other people who are out of work or living in working-class poverty but who are not on the street. Many of them have fallen into some need of services (rental/mortgage assistance, loan deferment, food assistance) because of the pandemic, but will claw their way out again.
Our community is blessed with many public, nonprofit, faith-based organizations and a myriad of private individuals that provide a host of services for our residents. For instance, during this pandemic, the Religious Coalition has been stepping in to provide hotel rooms, transitioning families into shelters, and ensuring that the residents of the overnight shelter were able to properly social distance. They also began administering the rental assistance program with support from the county.
The Salvation Army ensured that the day shelter would continue to run. And the Frederick Rescue Mission, I Believe in Me, Blessings in a Backpack, SHIP, City Youth Matrix, the Asian American Center, a huge consortium of local foundations, and religious congregations continue to step up to make sure that food and other essential services are being distributed.
This is all good, but the problems of siloed, isolated impacts have been exposed and the need for a coherent collective approach is increasingly more critical as we navigate how to care for all in need. However, accessing existing services can be extremely challenging.
For instance, the Health Department is across from Fort Detrick on Montevue Lane, Social Services has moved to the end of North Market Street near Wegmans, and the Senior Center is on Taney Avenue. Other providers for housing, health, employment, nourishment, counseling, the disabled, protective and legal services are spread far and wide. Without convenient transportation, these can be extremely difficult to access without a car.
We have learned many valuable lessons from the pandemic about how services are or are not provided to people in need. Just imagine if instead of having to travel to waiting rooms at many places over multiple days, often during the hours that most people work, many things could be handled remotely with our current technologies. Or even better, what if an individual could access almost all services at one entry point with no doors closed?
Frederick city and county own adjacent properties that could become a hub where a Central Human Services Campus could be established, where providers could share space, information, administrative costs, supplies and added synergy to create a cohesive experience to make it easier for all in need to get support more effectively in one place.
Several of our local pastors visited a good model for this idea. At the House of Neighborly Service in Loveland, Colorado, they found out that its success was built on having a myriad of agencies with a non-proselytizing policy that allows government and all organizations to co-locate and serve all. They will be delighted to share their experiences there.
This approach does not mean that many agencies must abandon their well-established quarters unless it is economically practical. They merely need to assign some of their agents to this facility. Frederick is a spread-out community with limited transportation options. This centralized hub would support a number of satellite locations that could be established in communities across the county and staffed with trained navigators who could better connect their neighbors with services. This also means that individuals and families can remain in their own communities, connected to their own social safety nets.
With limitations now exposed with what we began experiencing in 2020, this could be an excellent time with our upcoming elections to proactively consider a new vision for health and human services. Why not start having serious conversations leading to actions for immediate and long-term steps to making significant changes in how we provide services that are equally focused on treating people in need with dignity and aligning our services for greater effectiveness.
Alan Feinberg was trained and licensed as an architect, but has spent his entire career as a community planner and urban designer. It finally dawned on him that what he does best is paying attention to needs and opportunities, finding the best people around — preferably locals — to implement projects and policies for the greater good.