A Community-First Approach to Strengthen the Social Safety Net

Community leaders gather for panel discussion “We’re Only Human After All – Strengthening the Social Safety Net”

A panel of 5 people sit in front of an audience of around 40 people

Moderator, Kevin Fagan kicks off the discussion

With the holiday season approaching, Bay Area community members gathered for a conversation centered on human services solutions to support our region’s most vulnerable citizens. Hosted at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the evening’s attendees included representatives from multiple corporations, a wide range of nonprofits and community organizations, government agencies, and philanthropic groups. A panel featuring representatives from Cisco Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, United Way Bay Area, and Benetech, and moderated by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan, kicked off a thoughtful evening of community discussion and problem solving.

Holes in the Social Safety Net Pose Challenges

Kevin Fagan has reported on issues like homelessness and addiction for decades. He outlined the real challenges faced by
people he has interviewed who are living on the street. He pointed out that
people experiencing homelessness are not going to fill out a set of forms or
use an app to engage in the services they need, but instead we need to meet
people where they are and know how to reach them.

Panelist Kelly Batson, SVP of Community Impact from
United Way Bay Area added to Kevin’s comments, underscoring the need to
recognize the range of other services, in addition to shelter, that are
required to support individuals and families who are experiencing or at risk of
homelessness. Sometimes that means providing multiple types of services for one
or more people such as food and addiction support, childcare and legal aid, and
so on.

addition, the time it can take for vulnerable citizens to receive the resources
they need is the difference between a family at risk of eviction getting rent
assistance to stay in their home and living on the street.

Solution Requires Technology and Community Involvement

By the end of the discussion, it was universally
confirmed that the solutions — both tech and non-tech — for providing a
social safety net that is efficient, effective, and visible, have to be reached
via a community-driven approach.

The audience nodded their heads in agreement with Erin
Connor, Public Benefit Investment Program
Manager, Cisco Foundation, that this issue is not solved by technology alone,
but technology is a great tool and enabler. “You don’t start with the tech; you
start with the community like Benetech has.”

Benetech CEO, Betsy Beaumon, emphasized the importance of
working with the organizations that will be using and evaluating technology
solutions. In developing Benetech’s Service Net platform, which makes it easier
for safety net referral organizations and service providers to share and
maintain data on those services, Benetech has focused equally on developing the
technology and a trust system for the organizations who use it to make timely
and accurate referrals to individuals and families.

Service Net Partners Share Benefits of Collaboration

Last year, Cisco Foundation donated $50 M to
Destination Home to address a lack of extremely low-income housing in Santa
Clara County. Erin pointed out that the Cisco Foundation traditionally invests
in early stage tech that addresses a gap and has a path to scale and replicate,
which is why they chose to fund Service Net. Service Net is aligned with their
approach by leveraging the work already happening in the human services space.
“People don’t necessarily need more tech and apps; we need to maximize and
leverage what is already out there,” she explained.

Sherry Novick, Managing Director, Community Benefit Programs,
at Kaiser Permanente, a partner and funder of Service Net, described
Kaiser’s approach to addressing the drivers of health proactively. Care
providers must link their patients to other services to address total health,
she asserted, highlighting Kaiser Permanente’s Thrive Local social health
network that will enables healthcare providers to connect individuals to
appropriate services through a robust network of nonprofit, public, and private
resources.  “This is not an area in
healthcare for competition, but rather collaboration,” she explained.

Way Bay Area

is a pilot partner for Benetech Service Net. Kelly Batson, SVP Community
Impact, provided a positive perspective based on what she is seeing, stating
that people want to be part of developing solutions, and that she is encouraged
by all of the sectors getting involved and coming together to collaborate.

Betsy Beaumon concluded by sharing some of the key benefits that organizations in the completed six-month pilot have seen around sharing data and how users of services can be better served when the duplication of data is eliminated and allows for collaboration. Benetech’s survey of the San Francisco Bay Area/Sacramento region found that 74% of records about services are being maintained redundantly in individual resource directories that organizations expend significant resources to update manually.

Up Next: Service Net Pilot Expands to New Bay Area Counties
and Sacramento

For Benetech, in addition to expanding the Service Net pilot in the two fastest growing Bay Area counties (Santa Clara and Alameda counties), a project is underway in Sacramento. The Sacramento project focuses on enabling area shelters to share real-time capacity and eligibility information about available beds with hospitals and referral organizations that are on the front lines assisting people looking for shelter. The hope is that everyone left the event with an understanding of how, together and across organizations, a community can start to mend the holes in the social safety net, make it stronger, and make it more visible for everyone who needs it, when they need it. Together we can make human services more human. If you would like to partner with Benetech, please go to: https://benetech.org/get-involved/

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Source: Benetech