Red Lodge takes a look at ways to defeat poverty

The Red Lodge Area Community Foundation continued its focus on poverty in Carbon County holding a meeting at its premises on Wed., Jan. 15. Jessica Briggs chaired the meeting. It was attended by many people ranging from those very active in helping with social services as well as those who use the services but want to give back.

A list of key provisions of planning was created with care taken to review any possibly affected groups or organizations that might be aware of those in need and able to get the word out of community services. Groups such as the Food Bank, community fraternal organizations, churches and DSVS immediately came to mind.

It was agreed that for this first step, the most immediate way to help would be to unite all the services already available with one key figure, called a “navigator” who could be referred to a person, whatever the range of needs, to know what services were available, and significantly, help them take that first step in actually applying for aid.

Briggs said, “The navigator’s task is to work with a family in completing applications and providing information to them about area services. The goal is to bridge the gap between people and servi ces that has been observed in Carbon County.”

She explained, “A major reason for this gap is the strain of living in poverty.” To this burden, Briggs said, complex eligibility standards for many programs and a complex application process are added. “The goal is that the navigator will be able to assist in navigating these processes and help keep the family from giving up.”

The capstone of this preliminary stage will be the creation of a help line. When this phone number is up and working and prominently advertised, anyone in great need can simply dial the number to be connected to a navigator and begin the process for available services.

This preliminary plan will immediately assist people eligible for services but not accessing them due to lack of information or skill in negotiating the process. Already available services include food stamps, housing, job training, child care assistance and other vital services.

It is not a perfect solution but it is a start. It was acknowledged that a number of locals may fall through the eligibility gap or not be sufficiently assisted. Other services may be devised later. A number of assistance programs are having budget cuts. Food stamp allotments are being decreased and more working people are going hungry, especially young people (and their families) who serve local communities as waitstaff.

The group created a list of potential sources of volunteers.

Policy concerns were voiced: what are the limits, if any, for a candidate in needsuch as ongoing criminal act ivi ty that could also endanger a volunteer or trigger a duty to report? It was decided to form a policy oversight committee to review this and other issues.

An advisory board also exists that could be tapped for various concerns such as creating a task force developing crucial initial agreements- between the navigator/ volunteer and a family and the organizing entity and each volunteer.

Another concern was that volunteers receive the proper training. The group discussed various organizations that already conduct trainings such as the federal Human Resources Development Commission (HRDC), state and federal social services and DSVS and agreed t h a t t h e y c o u l d b e approached for input and possibly actual volunteer training assistance.

Other concerns were record keeping, job descriptions, orientation training, creating an application packet and administration for this whole new community effort to reach those in need of help.

The next meeting date is set for Tuesday, Feb. 18, at RLACF, at 5 p.m. Volunteers and ideas are welcome.