By Gil Preuss
Nearly 800,000 people in Greater Washington have sought jobless benefits. Within the Jewish community, we have seen requests for interest-free loans increase by six-fold.
People are searching for support when it comes to immediate cash and food assistance as well as with longer term challenges, including mental health and family counseling. In response, human service organizations in our community have stepped up to provide swift and effective emergency programs.
And yet, we have been noticing that even as our community struggles with a record level of need, the use of available services is relatively low.
It seems there are still too many barriers to entry when it comes to finding help in our community. First, the more diversified the sources of assistance, the harder they are to find. Many people are simply unfamiliar with the organizations that can help, particularly if this is the first time they have had to reach out. And those who do know where to turn are having to work with multiple contacts in order to address multiple needs. Second, asking for help is hard. Not everyone is comfortable approaching an organization to ask for resources.
This was not sitting well with us at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington or our partners — and so we have decided to do something about it. In partnership with JSSA, the Jewish Council for the Aging, the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington, Yad Yehuda and other local human service organizations, we will soon be launching a communitywide support line. The goal of this support line will be to provide callers with a single point of entry to a full network of assistance.
Unlike a simple referral line, this support line will be operated by trained case managers who will be screening for articulated and implied needs. They will then help callers to access services — both within and outside of the Jewish community — by making introductions on their behalf and following up with them to ensure they were able to find what they were looking for.
We anticipate keeping this support line in service long past the conclusion of the coronavirus pandemic, and hope to share the phone number by mid-June.Our work on the support line reflects one of Federation’s fundamental goals in the community — which is to bring people and organizations together to create a Jewish community that is greater than the sum of its parts.
From our unique vantage point, we can see what is working and what needs transformation in Jewish Greater Washington, which is why we feel a special and urgent responsibility, not only to identify the gaps, but to help bring our community together to fill them. In this case, that means collaborating closely with our partners to ensure our community can serve its most vulnerable members to the best of its ability. No one should have to forgo the help they need because it feels too complex or daunting to find.
Indeed, from now on, we will be doubling down on our efforts to engage our community in asking the big questions coming our way: How is the coronavirus affecting people’s needs, preferences and aspirations? How can we make our community stronger even itn the midst of this pandemic? What ways of thinking should be retired? What new ideas will best serve us moving forward?
Whatever the answers may be, we will find them by coming together, embracing innovation and putting the needs of our community members front and center.
Gil Preuss is CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington