WASHINGTON COUNTY — Editor’s note: Leaders of the Washington County Strategic Community Impact Plan divided the plan’s focus groups into three categories: people, families and community. This story features goals and strategies in the families category. The community category will be featured Wednesday. An overview of the SCIP project ran Sunday, and the people category was featured Monday.
Among the family-related goals in a new strategic plan for Washington County is a recommendation that would turn the community’s response to homelessness upside down, the plan’s creators said.
The Strategic Community Impact Plan, a set of goals and strategies for improving the quality of life in Washington County, recommends creating a Housing First program to move homeless individuals and families directly into permanent housing, rather than sending them through a series of shelters and transitional housing programs.
“This has been implemented in other parts of the country to very great success,” said Jodi Ostoich, executive director of REACH of Washington County and a member of the SCIP’s self-sufficiency focus group.
Leah Gayman, executive director of United Way of Washington County, said the chaos of living in shelters and transitional housing makes it more difficult for people to find work and to hold other aspects of their lives together. A housing-first approach can help reduce not only homelessness, but unemployment and substance abuse, she said.
“If a landlord is getting ready to evict a couple or a family and they’re getting ready to become homeless, that’s where the Housing First program would step in and say, ‘No, don’t evict them. We’ll help with the rent, or a subsidy, or whatever it takes, so they can start to function, you know, as a family, and ... with a caseworker involved, get them moving in a positive direction,” Gayman said.
The SCIP was developed over the past two years through a partnership between United Way and the Community Foundation of Washington County, and through the efforts of more than 200 volunteers from a variety of organizations and agencies.
The goal to initiate a Housing First program by 2013 was one of several goals in the plan related to families, vulnerable populations and ensuring the basic needs of citizens are met.
Family safety and security
In the category of family safety and security, the SCIP includes goals to decrease the occurrence of domestic violence and to decrease the occurrence of child maltreatment.
Increasing participation in programs for domestic-violence victims and perpetrators is one recommended strategy. The SCIP also recommends supporting the work of the local Family Violence Council to coordinate interventions in current and potential domestic-violence situations.
The plan recommends creating a community awareness campaign that targets signs and symptoms of child maltreatment.
In 2009, there were 1,642 cases of child abuse reported in Washington County, the SCIP report says.
Health and well-being
The SCIP focus group for health and well-being discussed a wide range of issues, but concentrated on those that can be affected at a local level, said focus group member Adam Roberson, program director for the Community Free Clinic of Washington County.
“We can’t get health insurance for everybody, but we can address individuals who don’t have health insurance; we can find help for them,” Roberson said.
The group also focused on goals that prevent health issues from arising, such as decreasing obesity and preventing substance abuse and unsafe sexual practices by youth.
The plan also recommends increasing opportunities for people with substance abuse problems to receive co-occurring treatment for any underlying mental illness.
Often, patients suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health problems self-medicate through substance abuse and wind up with an addiction on top of the original problem, Roberson said.
Roberson said many programs are already in place to address the health-related needs of the community, but the SCIP process helped bring leaders of those programs together to talk about sharing resources and working together.
“This document gives us the focused vision, it gives us the direction, and it gives us a common language that we can all speak together and measure our success,” he said.
Senior citizens have many of the same needs as the rest of the population, but the SCIP focus group on older adults selected four goals related specifically to seniors, group facilitator Mary Ellen Waltemire said.
Those goals are related to healthy living, socialization, “aging in place” and protection from financial exploitation.
Completion of the Washington County senior center planned for the Hagerstown Community College campus is one of the recommended strategies for connecting seniors with supports and socialization.
The SCIP also emphasizes the importance of volunteer opportunities for older adults. The Washington County Commission on Aging has a Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, that recruits and places people 55 years and older in volunteer positions, the SCIP report says.
To enable “aging in place,” or the ability for seniors to remain in their own homes, the SCIP recommends providing seniors with information about mortgage options and encouraging contractors to help adapt homes to physical limitations. The SCIP sets a goal to increase the number of adults staying in homes by 5 percent in five years.
The disabilities focus group chose to concentrate on jobs — for people with disabilities and their caretakers.
Employment presents unique obstacles for people with disabilities, said focus group member Janet Ernst, a former board member of Arc of Washington County.
“Their struggles are a little bit different than (those of) people who are unemployed but have the ability to be re-employed when the economy changes,” Ernst said. “Our folks are in a little bit different category than that. We almost have to make the niche for that.”
The group set a goal of increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities by 20 percent over the next five years. Recommended strategies are to provide disability awareness training for employers and to increase transportation options for disabled citizens.
The focus group also recognized that job options are limited for people who are the parent, guardian or caretaker of a disabled person, Ernst said. The group recommended offering job coaching to those individuals.
SCIP goals for families
Family safety and security:
- Decrease the occurrence of domestic violence.
- Decrease the occurrence of child maltreatment.
Health and well-being:
- Decrease youth risk behaviors such as substance abuse, tobacco use, unsafe sexual practices, dating violence, bullying and sexting.
- Decrease personal barriers that prevent residents from accessing quality health care services (medical, mental, dental, specialty care and prescriptions).
- Decrease the obesity rate in children and adults by increasing physical activity and healthful eating.
- Increase opportunities for substance-abuse treatment services to include co-occurring treatment.
- Promote healthy living and disease prevention among older adults.
- Develop, maintain and expand programs that connect older adults with supports and intergenerational socialization throughout the community.
- Enable “aging in place” for more older adults.
- Decrease financial exploitation of older adults.
- Increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities by 20 percent over the next five years.
- Increase employment supports for the guardians of individuals with a disability by 20 percent over the next five years.
- Improve the financial literacy of county residents.
- Create a Housing First program.
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