Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Center takes action to deliver human services more efficiently

by LINNIS JELLINEK Contributing Writer
| April 28, 2021 1:00 AM

What if one organization took action to deliver human services more efficiently in our community? What if that action could turn the dial on poverty and the urgent financial needs happening here in our community? I love “what if” questions because they open you up to possibilities. That’s the question I asked myself during 2020, as we, the Sandpoint Community Resource Center, and all nonprofits navigated new territory of trying to efficiently deliver resources during a pandemic to those who needed it most.

“Silos verses synergy” was obvious during that time. Everyone was doing great work and thinking out of the box, but communication between nonprofits, service providers and volunteers was inadequate to keep up with the changes. Our organization spent a couple of hours each day keeping track of changes to available services so that we could continue to connect people in need to resources and service providers like we have for the past eleven years. The worst thing you can do to someone in crisis is send them down a dead-end path with misinformation. They easily lose hope and become discouraged. Experience shows us over and over that the best time to help someone is when they are in front of you!

Speaking of thinking outside the box … we began to explore bringing nonprofits together under one roof to improve efficiency and create synergy among those delivering services to those in need. We know from the population we serve that if we can help them when they have one urgent need versus a situation that has spiraled into a multi-need crisis and even an unsurmountable situation, that it saves money and resources for the entire network of providers of human services. Optimizing resources is important for any business! Nonprofit organizations are simply corporations with a tax favored status. It may even be more critical for us to operate using wise business principles that save time and money.

Who do we serve? Good question. Prior to the pandemic we primarily served the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population who are the working poor in Bonner and Boundary counties. People who are working and barely able to meet basic needs. They are one unexpected expense away from an urgent financial need or a full-blown crisis. If the car needs repaired so that you can get to work where do you find money to fix the car and pay the rent or utility bill?

During the pandemic a new population of people in need emerged and they were people who had never had to ask for assistance before. That number was 45% of those we served in 2020, in addition to the ALICE population who had more needs than ever before. The needs in our community remain high and people are not on their feet again despite stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. The average member of our community doesn’t have any idea of the percentage of people living on a knife-edge financially. It’s 44% and the number is the same in both counties we serve. In Bonner county that’s 17,584 households and in Boundary county that equates to 4,605 households. Shocking isn’t it? These statistics are through 2018 and does not include 2020 because this report comes out every two years and the next report is due out in early 2023. Source: UnitedforAlice.org/Idaho

Rather than wringing our hands or holding our breath for the next ALICE report we decided to act and open the second HUD EnVision Center in Idaho and the fourth in the entire Northwest. EnVision Centers are “one-stop hubs” for underserved rural areas to help people reach self-sufficiency. A place where nonprofits and service providers who serve human needs are under one roof! There are four foundational focus areas to help people help themselves: Financial Empowerment, Educational Advancement, Health & Wellness and my personal favorite, Character & Leadership. Equipped with nineteen letters for support of the EnVision Center from community stakeholders such as city of Sandpoint, Office of County Commissioners, Panhandle Health District, Department of Labor, and the Innovia Foundation to name a few, we moved forward with the application process. From the initial introduction to our board of directors to the approval of our application was 100 days…and what a ride it was. Our HUD team as never seen a community come together, apply, and be approved as an EnVision Center so quickly. We are not tethered to HUD financially at all because we received no funding from them. They serve as advocates for our area to bring resources and programs to support the center.

It’s going to take time to turn the dial back on poverty in our area but together we can do this as a community. Our new name is the Community Resource EnVision Center and we will be located at 130 McGhee Road in Ponderay. We have leased 10,000 square feet to accommodate up to eight nonprofits and service providers full-time and up to twenty on a part-time basis. Yes…we’ve made the commitment to the future of our community. There's a famous saying by Ken Blanchard who says, “There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”

Linnis Jellinek is the executive director of the Community Resource EnVision Center (formerly Sandpoint Community Resource Center) and may be contacted at linnisj@sandpointcommunityresource.com.