Denver Department of Human Services Community Services Block Grant Needs Assessment: Executive Summary

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1 Denver Department of Human Services Community Services Block Grant Needs Assessment: Executive Summary Report to the Denver Department of Human Services Prepared by: Angie Davlyn, Ph.D. and James McKinnon, M.A. June 2014 update (to October 2012 original)

2 1 Introduction to Executive Summary The Denver Department of Human Services (DHS) contracted with JVA Consulting (JVA) in 2012 (original) and 2014 (update) to facilitate a community needs assessment in an attempt to provide better, more efficient services and improved collaborations. The purpose of the assessment was to evaluate current, unmet and future needs in relation to nine federal objectives: education, emergency services, employment, health, housing, income management, linkages, nutrition and self-sufficiency. The findings from this assessment will enable the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Advisory Committee to examine key issues and challenges facing Denver and make informed decisions in the development and improvement of services aligned with the needs and priorities of the community. The following is a condensed version of the full report, accessible online at: Methods A mixed-method, multi-lingual design was used in order to gather data from diverse community samples. The evaluation processes included: (1) Reviewing existing documents and demographic databases to inform tool development, (2) Collecting surveys from 325 low-income community members in 2012, (3) Conducting 8 focus groups with low-income community members in 2012, (4) Conducting phone interviews with 35 organization leaders identified by DHS for their knowledge about the needs of Denver s low-income community members and, (5) Collecting electronic surveys from 32 service provider contacts who were identified as having a high awareness of the wider CSBG/DHS efforts. Findings Current needs of low-income Denver community members Education. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to education, including early childhood education services, afterschool programs, life skills classes, ESL and GED courses, and college programs. How important is this need? Low-income community members ranked its importance as 3.51/ % of leaders identified this as one of the most critical unmet needs in Denver. ranked the ease of access of education assistance as a 2.12/4.0. How well is it currently being met? 64% of providers say that education needs are not being met. This need has become more prevalent since Identified issues and gaps in current educational services include: that transportation and childcare barriers prevent both youth and adults from attending existing educational programming, a need for the increased expansion of early childhood education services, a lack of both quality afterschool programming for youth and continuing education options for adults, and a lack of support for the transition from preschool to public school.

3 Emergency services. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to emergency services, including emergency assistance, emergency housing (e.g., homeless shelters) and other emergency resources. How important is this need? Low-income community members rated the importance of emergency services as 3.55/4.0. However, only 7% of organization leaders identified this need as one of the most important unmet needs in Denver. ranked its ease of access as a 1.89/4.0. How well is this need currently being met? 56% of providers say that emergency services needs are not being met. This need has become less prevalent since Identified issues or gaps in existing emergency services include: the issue that living in emergency shelters can adversely impact individuals ability to maintain steady employment; insufficient funding to meet high demand for emergency services; and a lack of emergency shelter beds and space, preventative housing services for low-income or homeless community members, cash assistance resources and domestic violence services. 2 Employment. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to employment, including economic development programs, job training classes, job placement services and other employment resources. How important is this need? Low-income community members ranked the importance of employment assistance as 3.66/ % of organization leaders identified employment as one of the most important unmet needs in Denver, and providers identified it as the second greatest unmet need in ranked the ease of access of employment assistance as a 2.40/4.0. How well is it currently being met? 64% of providers say employment needs are not being met. Identified issues or gaps in existing employment services include: the need for affordable, high-quality childcare in order to increase people s ability to work; that substantial barriers to employment exist for some marginalized groups; that low standards for work-readiness create barriers to employment; and a lack of start-up funding to offset the costs of starting jobs, job placement programs and job availability (despite an abundance of job training programs), and information about where to search for jobs. Health. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to health and healthcare, including health services for adults and children (e.g., shot clinics, doctors offices, prenatal care), healthcare assistance programs, recreation, and other health-related resources and services. How important is this need? Low-income community members ranked the importance of medical/health assistance as 3.7/4.0. ranked the ease of access of medical/health assistance as a 2.76/4.0, rating both Medicaid and community medical/health assistance services highly in terms of ease of access. How well is this need currently being met? 40% of 2014 providers say that health needs are not being met (compared to 85% of 2012 providers).

4 The need for health services has become less prevalent since 2012, likely due to the passing of the Affordable Care Act (more data should be collected to determine the extent of this impact). Identified issues or gaps in existing health/healthcare services include: transportation barriers to community members access to health care, issues with Colorado Indigent Care Program (CICP); gaps in wraparound mental health support services; increased barriers to quality medical care for some marginalized groups; and a lack of affordable healthcare options (which may see improvement as more data is collected regarding the impact of the Affordable Care Act), free or low-cost dental care options, providers who take Medicaid, and mental health and substance abuse treatment centers. 3 Housing. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to housing, including low-income and transitional housing resources. How important is this need? Housing was the most significant unmet need recognized by community members, organization leaders and service providers. Housing was identified as being critically important to low-income community members self-sufficiency and stability. How easily can low-income community members access existing services? Housing assistance was also one of the highest rated needs in terms of importance of service by community survey respondents, scoring 3.7/4.0, but community services for housing assistance were the lowest rated in terms of ease of access (1.8/4.0). How well is this need currently being met? Housing was identified by 2014 providers as being the most significant unmet need of all nine federal categories; 50% of 2012 providers and 80% of 2014 providers say that housing needs are not being met. The need for housing has become more prevalent since Identified issues or gaps in existing housing services include: a stigma against people who are homeless; long wait lists for Section Eight housing choice vouchers; barriers to housing for some marginalized groups, and a significant lack in affordable housing, group housing for chronically homeless women with mental illnesses, and supportive wraparound housing services. Income management. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to income management, including financial education programs, microlending programs, and other income management resources and services. How important is this need? Compared with other services, income management was ranked the lowest (3.30/4.0) in terms of importance by Low-income members. ranked the ease of access of income management services as a 2.0/4.0. How well is this need currently being met? 66% of providers say that income management needs are not being met. However, no organization leaders identified this as a most important need. The predominant identified gaps in existing income management services were low-income community members inability to save money and inability to earn sufficient wages. Creating linkages. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to creating linkages among anti-poverty programs, such as efforts to assemble packages of assistance from different sources to help those in need or collaborative partnerships between agencies or programs serving similar low-income populations.

5 How well is this need currently being met? 54% of providers say needs for linkages are not being met. 22% of organization leaders identified this as one of the most important unmet needs. The two gaps in existing linkages services identified by participants were an increased need for system navigators and a lack of connected, wraparound services. 4 Nutrition. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to food and nutrition, including emergency food (e.g., food banks) and efforts to increase knowledge about healthy eating. How important is this need? Low-income community members ranked the importance of food assistance as 3.7/ % of organization leaders identified nutrition as one of the most important unmet needs in Denver. ranked the ease of access of food assistance as a 2.87/4.0. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and Quest/EBT cards were the two easiest-toaccess government services. How well is this need being met? 56% of providers say needs for nutrition are not being met. Identified issues or gaps in existing food/nutrition services include: problems with the unexplained termination of SNAP benefits; and a lack of enough food, information on healthy cooking on a limited budget and affordable grocery stores within walking distance. Self-sufficiency. Needs, beneficial resources and gaps in services were identified related to improving self-sufficiency among low-income community members, such as efforts to increase community members savings or programs to help them transition off services. How important is this need? While self-sufficiency is identified as a federal CSBG need, it was not specifically identified by organization leaders as being one of the most important unmet needs for Denver s low-income community. However, many organization leaders and low-income community members described the importance of removing barriers to individuals selfsufficiency, such as the cliff effect. How well is this need currently being met? 76% of providers say self-sufficiency needs are not being met, ranking it the third greatest unmet need for low-income community members. The need for self-sufficiency has become more prevalent since In addition to the prevalence of the cliff effect, the two other identified gaps in existing self-sufficiency services include a lack of support systems for low-income individuals transitioning into and out of services and a lack of affordable childcare and transportation. Three additional needs not included in the federal objectives. In addition to the nine federal objectives identified above, needs were examined for transportation, childcare, and four special populations (i.e., individuals who are transgender, new immigrants, seniors who are aging in place and ex-offenders). These needs were not identified as a federal CSBG objectives, but their importance arose through the data collection process. Changing needs Participants identified five primary ways that the needs of Denver s low income population have changed over the past five years. These included:

6 An increase in the low-income population, A broadening and diversifying of the low-income population, An increase in number and severity of problems associated with living in poverty, An increase in community knowledge and awareness of homelessness and poverty (due largely to the Denver s Road Home initiative), A decrease in funding and resources available to organizations working with low-income populations, and, An improvement in the job market since The current recovering economy and effects related to the 2012 (and prior) economic downturn (e.g., more selective employers, diminishing organizational resources, and a squeezed rental market) were identified as the primary reasons for the above changes. As one organization leader explained, People are really struggling and have been for a long time. 5 Participants identified three primary ways that the needs of Denver s low-income community members will continue to evolve in the future: Impact of the Affordable Care Act respondents anticipated changes to come from the Affordable Care Act (e.g., increase in Medicaid use, increased access to preventative care) respondents saw these changes beginning to come to fruition, while others remained cautious. 2012: Decreasing financial resources along with increasing need. 92% of 2012 providers (and 17% of 2014 providers) identified decreasing financial resources as the primary barrier that they anticipated would become more problematic over the next five years, and worried that as a result, organizations would not be able to meet the needs of an increasing client base. 2014: Continued lack of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing was the most frequently noted barrier 2014 providers anticipated becoming more problematic over the next five years. System-wide assets in addressing needs of low-income community members Five system-wide assets of Denver in addressing the needs of low-income community member were identified. These include: great staff and caseworkers, generous philanthropists, community member support, strong organizational and political leadership, and improved (and improving) DHS collaboration. Systemic barriers Systemic barriers were identified that impacted low-income community members abilities and willingness to: learn about programs and services, seek out programs and services and actually receive programs and services. Barriers to learning about services and programs include: a lack of provider/caseworker knowledge of existing services and/or communication to low-income community members about these services; a lack of community member knowledge about existing programs and services; and limited Internet access. Barriers to seeking out services and programs include: inconsistent information about services and requirements; transportation and childcare; confusing processes of both service delivery and multi-step application processes and paperwork; cultural and language barriers; particular barriers for seniors; long

7 6 waiting times; feelings of shame and stigma for using services; and the dehumanizing experience of applying for and receiving services. Barriers to actually being enrolled in services and programs include: not having necessary resources (i.e., materials and money) to pay fees; the inability to solve problems promptly because when problems or questions arise, it is unclear who to call and nearly impossible to get anyone from DHS on the phone; that applications and services are denied for insignificant reasons; and individuals falling through the cracks during time spent waiting for applications to get processed. Overall recommendations Recommendations for improving community members information about services include: Improve clarity of information and increase current methods for disseminating information about existing services and programs. Provide clear information for finding and navigating existing services in a variety of formats (e.g., online, print, human resources). Create a guide to aid the efforts of low-income individuals through the process of creating a plan to eventually move off of services and become self-sufficient. Create a standardized combined application. Develop DHS application monitoring system. Recommendations for improving community members access to services include: Develop resources for bringing services directly to recipients residences or community centers. Develop local, community-based comprehensive service centers. Make it easier to access services and jobs by addressing transportation and childcare needs. Increase the capacity of local organizations to enroll community members in services. Improve access for overlooked and underserved populations. The primary recommendation for improving the experience of receiving services is to improve the DHS customer experience for service recipients. Recommendations for improving the effectiveness of programs and services offered include: Increase collaboration between providers. Increase regional collaboration among providers and agencies. Increase communication between agencies and departments. Increase communication, consolidation and partnering to avoid duplication of services. Create coalitions to encourage partnering. Better utilize system navigators to promote linkages between services. Better measure the impact of services to improve effectiveness. Ensure follow-up is done.

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