Steamboat Springs It’s encouraging to see local government and nonprofits work together to identify and prioritize the county’s most pressing health and human services needs, especially at a time when those needs are increasing at an unprecedented rate in the face of a sour economy.
Some 40 people — representing Routt County’s Department of Human Services, the Routt County Human Resource Coalition, Routt County United Way and several nonprofit organizations — have spent the better part of the past year developing a plan to match charitable funding with missions that can have the greatest community impact. The plan still must be adopted by county commissioners and the Steamboat Springs City Council, and even then, it will be merely a guideline and not binding. But the report gives donors and nonprofit agencies clear guidance on the challenges facing the residents of Steamboat Springs and Routt County.
Perhaps most important, the plan is driven by data, not emotion. That’s refreshing at a time when every charitable gift is precious and donors want to make sure their dollars are spent wisely.
The top three priorities identified in the human services plan are:
■ Increasing economic self-sufficiency
■ Increasing access to behavioral health and psychiatric services
■ Decreasing child abuse
Other higher-priority needs include decreasing suicides, decreasing substance abuse, increasing access to health care and reducing domestic violence. The plan gives agencies such as the United Way, which this week achieved its 2011 goal of raising $500,000 to fund local health and human service programs, a valuable tool to use in allocating charitable funds to nonprofit organizations. And it allows nonprofits to tailor programs to best meet community needs.
It makes sense that economic self-sufficiency is the plan’s top priority. In the past three years, the number of local families needing assistance with basic necessities — food, shelter and utilities — has increased two-, three- and four-fold. For example, LIFT-UP of Routt County dispensed 2,226 bags of groceries to needy families in 2006; last year, the total was 11,217 bags. The county’s unemployment rate has nearly quadrupled in the past four years, creating levels of poverty in this area that haven’t been seen in decades, if ever.
The plan recognizes that, giving away food and money for rent, while essential in the short term, won’t solve the problem long term. That solution will come by helping people work their way out of difficult economic times through programs aimed at developing job skills, enhancing financial education or improving physical health.
We salute the nonprofit community for working to develop a plan that addresses the area’s health and human services needs. It’s an excellent resource for donors and agencies to use in helping build a better community.