Monroe County officials want to make it easier for residents to get the public assistance they need, so they’re redesigning how the services are accessed and delivered, County Executive Adam Bello said Wednesday.
The county plans to embed more of those programs into smaller, community-based organizations as a way to bring resources and assistance directly to the people who need them. Right now, they have to visit or call one of two busy office buildings, both of which are in the city.
Speaking in front of the Department of Human Services office building at 691 St. Paul St., Bello said that embedding the services in smaller agencies, such as Ibero American Action League or Huther Doyle, will ensure that clients have easier access to resources through organizations they trust.
He also noted that clients who need to visit the St. Paul Street offices, or the county offices at 111 Westfall Road, often need to find transportation and arrange for child care. The locations are also far from county residents outside of the city.
“All county residents — urban, suburban, and rural — deserve access to stigma-free public health, human services, and social supports,” Bello said. “If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our community is strongest when we work together instead of operating in silos.”
Bello said he expects that county officials will spend roughly the next year talking to potential partners to figure out how they can house public assistance programs. Agencies will likely begin hosting county services the following year.
This type of collaboration has been done before, he said. The city and county partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Rochester and Just Cause, another legal assistance organization, to provide rent and legal assistance to people who suffered financially as a result of the pandemic. They've distributed $10 million to 2,800 people and families, Bello stated.
Last year, soon after Bello took office, his transition team presented him with a plan that included a recommendation that the county explore integrating services into community-based organizations.
The shift, which Bello said would be a three-part, three-year process, is also in line with recommendations contained in a March report from the city-county Commission on Racial and Structural Equity. That report recommended that the county and city “decentralize services and embed them in trusted agencies throughout the community.”
The report specifically mentioned creating and funding community alternatives to police, including crisis intervention specialists and community mediators. It also directly suggested that the county embed Department of Public Health programs in community-based organizations.
“We must rethink and overhaul the procedures and processes and protocols that stand between people in need and the help available from our departments,” Bello said. “We must create a new, more equitable system that reflects the needs and interests of the real people the system is supposed to help.”
Arline Santiago, co-chair of the RASE commission as well as vice president and general counsel of ESL Federal Credit Union, said Wednesday that she was pleased to see the recommendations, which the commission based on public input, being “brought to life.”
Rochester has high overall poverty rates, high child poverty rates, and high rates of extreme poverty, noted Aqua Porter, executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. Public assistance can help lift people up and improve their lives, she said, but for that to happen, the programs need to reach people and serve them well.
“The systems that are in place today in this community are insufficient and ineffective in combating poverty,” Porter said. “Well-intentioned but misaligned programs that are delivery-focused rather than person-centered, reactive versus proactive processes and systems, result in staggering poverty rates that remain among the highest in the country.”
Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.