Live United: Are we listening to the people using services?

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 9, 2021

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Live United by Erin Haag

My last article stuck a chord with many people. I was a little surprised at the number of people who reached out to comment on what I wrote. If I haven’t returned your message — thank you for letting me know you read and were touched by what I had to say.

Erin Haag

In some of the conversations though, I realized that not everyone understood what kind of barriers I was talking about when it comes to giving. It’s not about giving donations without a say in where it goes or what we do with it. It’s about providing a welcoming relationship with individuals that need help, about providing a safe place that’s not intimidating or confusing. It’s about learning what information do we really need to know, and what information is intrusive of a person’s dignity and privacy. It’s about empowering people to have a voice, to feel welcome, to feel equal to you.

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Today I attended a meeting where a county worker (another county) shared the work she’s doing in collaboration with other counties to redesign the application system. Currently, to apply for benefits it takes an average of 100 minutes. They’re piloting a new application that currently is averaging about 12 minutes to complete. That’s huge. And that’s what I am talking about. What many people don’t realize is how much work it is to access resources. I have a hard time carving out time to fill out the duplicate pages of forms for school enrollment. What would it be like if I had to fill out a form for each and every service I received and round up all the verification forms, all during a highly stressful time of my life? I have child care, a printer, access to internet and transportation. Take away any one of those things — it’s work.

How can we make it easier for people to get the help they need? This new system I heard about this morning is something I’m really excited about. Apparently, aside from the shortened time to fill out, it will be mobile friendly, with the ability to snap a picture of your documents and upload it right to your application. So simple for many of us, but so revolutionary in the world of intake and processing applications. It’s not just good for the community members using the resources. It’s good for the agencies that are delivering the services as well. One of the most time-consuming pieces of a human service agency is the intake process. The listening of the story, the processing of what it is a person needs, which is often complex and a domino effect. If we can streamline that process, that would alleviate the burden on staff as well.

This past week, a board member shared that she felt like Scooby Doo. She was delving into the nuances of resources offered in our community. What seems like it’s helpful on the surface might be unintentionally throwing up barriers that have devastating impacts on the ability of our community members — our neighbors — to access the help that they need.

Of course, I’ve got the theme song on repeat now. 

Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you?

We got some work to do now

Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you?

We need some help from you now

Can I make this a campaign theme? I’m going to investigate if I’m allowed to use a trademarked cartoon character in my campaign.

On a serious note though, we need to investigate, to listen, to learn from those who are highly impacted but traditionally have low influence. We have work to do now and we need you to help.

Are we listening to the people using our services? Are we taking concrete, actionable steps to reduce those barriers? I’ve got some ideas about this. (You’re not really surprised are you?). Things are happening in the background in the area of food resources, in the area of child care, in the area of connecting people with resources.

Want to join me? Give me a call and learn about how you can help by volunteering, by donating, by participating on a committee or hosting a workplace campaign. Call me and we’ll set up a time to chat. Come by and see our space, and I’ll even share the awesome cookies my mother-in-law makes. Our phone is 507-373-8670, and we even have a fancy new doorbell now. And…you’re welcome for the earworm.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.