Sedalia-Pettis County United Way focused on safety net services during its third focus group meeting Tuesday evening, with some common themes emerging that had been heard during the first two focus groups.
About 20 people attended the meeting facilitated by SPCUW board member JoAnn Martin, with three tables having small discussions and then sharing with the group. Questions included: What do you want our community to look like in regards to safety net services? What are the two to three most important issues? What are the barriers to solving those issues, and how can we remove those barriers?
A group comprised of Jack Menges, of Open Door Ministries, Mary Jo Sartin, of CACTUS, Tonia Collins, of The Salvation Army, Pam Hunter, of the Liberty/Tambo Apartments, and Billy Foster, of Bethel Family Church, discussed the creation of one, centralized operation that could help those in need find services.
“The ideal would be, it’s probably not practical, is to have everyone in one place,” Menges said. “To have the five or six major providers in one building so these people come in and if it’s not you, you can get them to the right place. … These people are wasting a lot of time, and gas, driving to get to all these different places.”
Other groups offered the idea of creating a hotline and a database where agencies could report in each morning the services they have to offer that day, and those in need could simply call one phone number where someone could point them in the right direction, similar to Kansas City’s homeless hotline.
Education and affordable, decent housing both again were discussed, with points being reiterated from the education and income focus groups. While Menges mentioned that 33 percent of clients over the age of 18 who were helped with food in June didn’t have a high school diploma or GED, the education discussion was also focused on life skills education.
“As you talk about education, I think just basic budgeting is important because people will spend money on a phone when they can’t pay the electric bill,” Foster said. “They could be paying the electric bill instead of for the phone.”
“There’s times when (Open Door) gives them food, (Salvation Army) gives them food, and they don’t know how to cook it,” Menges said.
“That’s education,” Foster said.
For many in attendance, the issues came down to people being motivated to take responsibility for themselves, and for people to take pride in their town. Several said they feel there is a “disconnect among people.”
“If you think about how we used to do safety net, we used to do, ‘Oh, Mrs. Jones is having a problem so I have an extra casserole I’ll take her’ or ‘Mr. Green’s back is bad, I’ll mow his grass.’ And we’ve lost some of that. We’ve lost some of that connection,” Martin said.
The last focus group will focus on health, and will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. July 15 at the Fox Theater Events Center. RSVPs are requested by July 14 to firstname.lastname@example.org or 826-2980. Refreshments are provided.