Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode, hear from Johnson County Human Services about the resources available for residents in need. Find out about innovative ways you can support your neighbors. We'll also talk with a helping organization about housing needs in our area and the impact of recent state and federal measures to ease the burden for renters and homeowners in our community. Finally, find out how technology is making it easier to get resources to those who are struggling.
Announcer [00:00:25] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed [00:00:39] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host. Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government.. There is a perception that Johnson County residents are doing well financially and have few challenges with meeting their needs. But we know the reality is different for some in our community, especially during this pandemic. Today, we have several guests who are going to help us understand the needs in Johnson County and how we can help. Valerie, Kris and Debbie, thank you for being here. I'm going to start just by having you introduce yourself and your role. And we'll start with Valerie and then Chris and Debbie.
Valerie Carson [00:01:10] My name is Valerie Carson and I'm the community planning director at United Community Services. And thanks for asking us to be here.
Theresa Freed [00:01:17] Thank you for being here. And Chris...
Chris Schneweis [00:01:20] My name is Chris Schneweis and I'm a Senior Management Analyst with the County Manager's Office. And I'm also Johnson County's HIPAA privacy officer.
Theresa Freed [00:01:27] Okay, Debbie.
Debbie Collins [00:01:28] Hi. Debbie Collins, Director of the Human Services Department for Johnson County Government. Thanks for having us here today.
Theresa Freed [00:01:35] All right, Debbie, we're going to go ahead and start with you. Can you just talk a little bit about the work that Human Services does, who you serve and kind of what the needs are here in Johnson County?
Debbie Collins [00:01:44] Sure. So we are kind of an all purpose human service organization. We serve people, primarily those who are frail and elderly, people who are struggling with housing issues and folks up to about 200 percent of the federal poverty level. We provide multiple different types of services, including rent and mortgage assistance when we have the funding, we don't always have the funding to do that. We also provide utility assistance, help paying medical bills through a designated pot of money that we have to be able to do that. We can help some with transportation issues. And then we do have food pantries and we have four different multiservice centers. Three of the four have food pantries in them. So we can provide those types of stabilization services for people who are now finding themselves needing that kind of help in Johnson County.
Theresa Freed [00:02:44] And so obviously, based on the fact that there are these services. And can you talk a little bit about the need?
Debbie Collins [00:02:49] Yes. Well, especially right now, during the COVID pandemic, we have seen more and more people coming to us. Some are families that we have never served before. We've also seen a multitude of families that we served in the past that are kind of resurfacing again. And they are struggling to make their rent and mortgage payments. Many of them have been furloughed or have have had reduced hours at work with the whole situation, with home schooling and all of that right now. Not everybody has the opportunity to actually work from home. So we're seeing families that are really having a hard time making their payments. And that's where we're able to kind of step in and help with some of those things that I mentioned before.
Theresa Freed [00:03:34] As far as the resources that are available, hopefully the pandemic is short term or I mean, it's feels like it's a very long term thing right now, but it hopefully will end at some point. So is there something that can be done to help residents who maybe are facing more short, short term impacts from the pandemic?
Debbie Collins [00:03:51] Well, sure. I mean, we always need donations, whether it be cash donations or food. We we actually have always relied upon schools and churches to to run food drives for us because of COVID and the social distancing requirements. We've not been able to count on those particular sources of revenue and food. So we have come up with a pretty, I think, innovative way of getting donations from people. We actually have a a wishlist on Amazon that has been reactivated. We used this when the pandemic first started and we had a huge outpouring of people who supported that effort. They went onto Amazon, they found our organization, and they just ordered peanut butter and crackers and, you know, shelf stable food, soups and all kinds of things. And we had so much food coming to us. It was it was an absolute wonderful response from our community. We had. So much food, in fact, that we kind of we've scaled way back on on those requests from Amazon. But now that school has started back up. We're starting to see families coming to us more and more. And so we've actually reactivated that whole wish list on Amazon. So if anybody would like to donate through Amazon, really the easiest way would be to go on the Human Services Facebook page. We have a link directly to the Amazon wish list. That's the easiest way to find us. Otherwise, we always need donations of, you know, just money, donations that we can use to purchase food and other types of equipment and supplies.
Theresa Freed [00:05:40] I think it's kind of neat too, you know, people are so familiar with Amazon and you can do it from the convenience of your home. It's nice and safe, but it doesn't include just food. There are other items that you guys are in need of. Right? And those are also on Amazon.
Debbie Collins [00:05:54] A lot of personal hygiene items, diapers for babies, you know, shampoos, soaps, those kinds of things. You know, all of that is part of our wish list. So people in need aren't discriminating. You know, they're not just wanting food. They need they need everything. Toilet paper, hoping that there's not going to be another run on that. But that was something that we were finding ourselves very short on as well. What a great response from our community.
Theresa Freed [00:06:21] And can you talk a little bit about that, that link between school being back in session and the increased need?
Debbie Collins [00:06:27] We have families now who are are being required to stay at home and help home school or supervise their their students, especially their elementary school aged people, are likely having to take either leaves of absence without pay or they're their hours have been significantly cut back. They may have had other childcare options during the summer, the they just don't have access to right now. So I think that's probably where the link is that we're starting to see families that are being required to actually participate more in their child's educational process with this whole, you know, social distancing and the hybrid models and the, you know, virtual schooling. So I believe that's probably what is what's attributing to the increase in people coming to us for help.
Theresa Freed [00:07:18] All right. Thanks for that. And Valerie, can you talk a little bit about your organization and if you're seeing that sort of a similar situation in the community?
Valerie Carson [00:07:26] You know, Community Services is a nonprofit community planning organization that's actually been around for more than 50 years here. And as an organization, we work to enhance the availability and delivery of health and human services. So I think the way that we serve Johnson County versus very directly, like much of the multiservice centers at Human Services does, is we do that by informing, supporting and expanding resources for many of the systems and organizations that work together to assure that local residents needs are met and that basically all people in the community have the opportunity to fulfill their own potential and contribute to the well-being of the community as a whole. I think we're seeing we're hearing many of those same things, especially as our role as the continuum of care on homelessness' lead agency, because we're hearing people calling and saying, I'm about to lose my housing, I'm behind in rent. Where do I go? What can I do now? I don't think a lot of people in Johnson County understand that that affordable, stable housing was already at risk for many households in the community before the pandemic and that the pandemic has really widened the gap or the kind of crack in the system that exposes how many people are affected by that. So prior to the pandemic, there was a significant proportion of Johnson County households that were already struggling to meet their needs on a house on a regular basis. But that was especially so for those who made thirty five thousand dollars or less as a household. And so we many of those are what we call cost-burdened. And if you're spending more than 30 percent of your income on housing, then you're known to be at increased risk for losing that housing due to things such as a sudden job loss or a major medical issue. Prior to the pandemic, one out of four households in the community, regardless of their income, were already cost burdened. Were already spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. But for those renters and owners who actually made thirty five thousand dollars or less a year, actually 80 percent or four out of five of them are cost burdened. Now, when the pandemic happened, for many, that brought that sudden loss of income due to the stay at home order and due to the loss of demand for many of the businesses. And first time unemployment claims spiked in March and were disproportionately highest among those who had the lowest median wages. So it impacted those households who were already most likely to be cost burdened in the community. And while those first time unemployment claims have dropped dramatically after that initial spike, those first time claims in Johnson County have been starting to creep back up since the beginning of August when many of those expanded benefits went away. Now, another way that the broader systems are impacting the stability of housing in the community are what are called eviction moratoriums, where there has been a short amount of time set aside for those who were impacted by the pandemic and it had an impact on their income, were kept from being evicted into the community and losing their house and to give them wiggle room until they can put those pieces of income together or to be able to meet their housing needs. And that was put in place by the state through the end of May. And then actually the governor put it in place again mid-August when those unemployment benefits had run out. Those expanded ones. And since then, the CDC has put an additional one. So there are being some policy measures being put in place to be able to help people maintain their housing, because as the CDC would say, it's important that people maintain their housing because that prevents transmission and then enables people to also, if they are infected, to isolate and recover and have less severe outcomes.
Theresa Freed [00:11:41] So it sounds like there's there's some fairly, I don't want to say stable, but there are some decent funding sources right now to help people address their housing needs. But there are concerns as time goes on that those might dry up. People may not be reemployed like we hope so. So what are some things that are happening right now to to address that?
Valerie Carson [00:12:03] I think there's there's there's a lot of questions with some of the funding streams that are coming down. Many of them have end dates on them that clearly say they have to be spent in this timeframe. They have to be out the door in this timeframe. And I think there's just a huge amount of unknowns around the pandemic. And when not only when, we will no longer be actively concerned about transmission in the community, but what impact that will have on local businesses for people's feeling like they can go out and they can be engaged and they can be fully employed. And, you know, the impacts are schools that it doesn't only impact our businesses, but it impacts our schools and impacts our faith communities. It impacts a lot of our entertainment that we would normally engage in and be spending money in. And so there's I don't think sometimes we don't understand how interconnected those systems are with each other and how important that all of them continue in order to be able to to stay healthy and to grow.
Theresa Freed [00:13:11] So I know you touched on this, but I want to talk a little bit more about it. Just the importance of people having housing during a public health crisis when we're dealing with a pandemic. For people to be able to safely isolate when they need to quarantine. So can you talk a little bit more about the public health aspect? This isn't just an issue for people who are facing a housing crisis. This is an issue for our entire community.
Valerie Carson [00:13:40] You know, I was I was really struck by the fact that when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its eviction moratorium on September 4th in the Federal Register, they honestly they made the clear and compelling case for why housing is an effective public health intervention. The fact is, is that if you have a place to live, you have a place to self isolate or quarantine if you're exposed, thus you prevent transmission. If you have a place to live, you have a place to recover in case you do become ill, which not only prevents transmission, but also reduces the likelihood that you have more severe outcomes from that particular illness. And if the households are able to maintain their housing, then broader communities and those public health responses as a system can be effective and they can put those infection control measures into place. If people lose their housing kind of just here and there and everywhere, what ends up happening is that people kind of scatter to the wind and double up in with other family members. Who have a higher concentration of number of people, an inability to isolate and or they're out living in their cars or in places not meant for human habitation. That, again, put them both at risk for likelihood of being exposed and not being able to self isolate and thus transmit potentially in the community. So the fact is, is that we all benefit from there being less illness, less death and frequently and subsequently less transmission in the community. And that's not only important for our individual residents and their own experience with the illness, but it's also critically important for our local businesses and our local schools and faith communities and our government systems, because all of that has are invested in the fact that we have a healthy community.
Theresa Freed [00:15:42] All right. Great points there. And next to Chris, I want to talk a little bit about, you know, it's important that all of these resources are there, but it's also very important that we connect the dots. We are able to connect people to those resources and then also help the people who are providing the resources get connected so that people are getting what they need. So can you talk a little bit about sort of this program or or innovation called MyRC?
Chris Schneweis [00:16:09] Sure, Theresa, My Resource Connection, believe it or not's actually not very new. It's actually over 10 years old, something that the county has been working on. And the whole idea behind it, it's kind of the no wrong door approach for our own case managers within Johnon County government. That's how it started, was to allow people -- let's say somebody is visiting Debi's department, the Human Services Department, and they're good there because they have housing insecurity. They maybe need rent assistance, something like that. But while one of Debbie's staff is meeting with them, they find out that they're also food insecure or better yet, maybe they have medical bills that they can't pay. And that's part of the rent problem. Instead of kicking that can down the road, what the county wanted to do was take all these resource manuals that a lot of departments have. They would be out of date within three months of printing them. Let's take all that data and let's turn it into electronic data and then let's make that accessible to all of our staff so that when they're meeting with an individual, they can look at the whole person and look at what are all their needs. Those needed resources. And then help that individual either make that referral or make that phone call, link them to that resource. So that way, again, this individual isn't wandering around or having to place three or four different phone calls to different organizations to try to get their needs met.
Theresa Freed [00:17:26] So does that extend just to Johnson County or is that something that's more regional, that is more regional now?
Chris Schneweis [00:17:33] It is more regional now. We just met with our biggest partners, United Way 211. We have a memorandum of understanding where they allow us access to their resource status so that we can make it viewable as well. So we are now up to 13 metro counties, five of which are on the Missouri side, eight of which are on the Kansas side, that we have resource data coming from all those different counties. So that way, again, if you're meeting with an individual that they may be in Johnson County receiving services. But guess what? They live right on the Johnson County Wyandotte County border. There may be a resource in Wyandotte County that can better serve them. And we want to be able to link them to that resource again without putting the burden back on the individual.
Theresa Freed [00:18:16] So what does that look like for the person receiving the assistance? So say they walk in to one of our human services offices and they're asking about housing assistance. Does somebody from another organization, reach out to them. And then also, are there any concerns about privacy or how do we protect that?
Chris Schneweis [00:18:33] Well, the privacy of the client data within my resource connection is secured. We make sure of that because the data MyRC it it's it's a Web-based application, but it is not a database. That is the biggest misconception. What MyRC does is that we simply extract data, put it into a secured site behind firewalls, and then it's all based on user administration, based on your credentialing as a staff member of Johnson County Government, you have access to that that system, but you do not have full access. Again, it's based on what job duties you have. And is it appropriate, acceptable for you to have that level of access? But from there, the system is a view only application, meaning we don't store that we simply extract it from its original location and make it viewable through My Resource Connection. When you're coming in and we're meeting with that individual, if we have resource data that we want to provide to this individual, we can do it in a multitude of ways. We can assist the individual without actually making the referral, picking up the pole right then and there, calling this other agency and saying, hey, we have an individual that has a need. Do you have the capacity to meet that need? And helping them make that initial contact. If we're doing it remotely, because right now some of our staff are not all in the office. They're working remotely like you and I are today. We have the ability to use MyRC, look up those needed resources and actually email. To the individual, which is going to provide them all the information, the address, the phone number, the contact information is there eligibility requirements, what all services is provided by this organization. And we can do that that way as well. And then we can do the age old, print out a list of resources and make that available to an individual before they walk out of our office.
Theresa Freed [00:20:20] So it's like it cuts down on the legwork there. But also a lot of the frustration in you know, you've got people who are in crisis and are already stressed. And so this is probably very helpful in that way as well.
Chris Schneweis [00:20:31] Well, and the other thing is there are two different versions. There's the version that you and I are talking about right now, which is that secured version that our staff uses. But then there's also a public facing version that staff have access or that individuals throughout the community have access to. They simply can go on type in My Resource Connection on any search engine. When it comes up, one of the first ones you're gonna find is My Resource Connection Johnson County. Follow that link and it's going to take you out there and you can look for those needed resources on your own from your own personal computer.
Theresa Freed [00:21:02] All right. That's terrific. I just want to wrap up by opening this up to everybody. Any words of hope for for those in need in our community and also any messages of our listeners on ways that they can help?
Debbie Collins [00:21:16] Well, I would just say words of hope. We are eternal optimists in a human service world, always, even though we oftentimes are kind of faced with some of the worst that, you know, that humanity deals out. But I guess I would just tell everybody to please hang in there. Help is out there available. And I did want to go ahead and get the phone number. If somebody were interested or needing some help with rent assistance, utility assistance, food pantry, the phone number to call would be 913-715-6653. And we do we meet people by appointment. So you will need to call that number before you come in. But I'm actually we're doing most of what we're doing remotely and virtually. So give us a call if you need any help.
Theresa Freed [00:22:10] All right, anyone else?
Valerie Carson [00:22:10] I think another action that I would really encourage households to engage in? Is advocacy locally, given that many of those dollars, which go to those municipalities or to the county, are still being decided upon. And what should be prioritized? I think it's really important for the community to let their elected officials know that it's really important, that it's important to them that people are able to have their basic needs, including their housing met during this time, and that it will benefit us as a community overall if that happens.
Chris Schneweis [00:22:46] I would strongly encourage people that if you're if you don't know who to turn to or where to turn United Way 211, picking up the phone and calling 211. They are a great partner with the county and I know that they can assist you in getting whatever resources that you need.
Theresa Freed [00:23:03] All right. A lot of great information there. And for more information about COVID-19 in Johnson County, visit Jocogov.org/coronavirus. You can also subscribe to a daily newsletter with the latest information from the county and the state and for the links that we talked about in this podcast episode. We'll have those in the show notes for you. Thanks for listening.
Announcer [00:23:22] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.