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Social service funding slide affects us all

by Deidre Ashley

November 16, 2016 | from Sound Mind | The Jackson Hole News & Guide

This last budget year, core social service organizations in Jackson Hole saw a reduction in state and federal funding of almost $800,000. In addition, most of the Human Service Council nonprofits are projecting — and trying to prepare for — significant cuts next year.

Unfortunately, the decreased funding comes at a time when most are seeing an increase in demand for these essential services.

The system in Wyoming works a bit differently from many other states. Core human services that relate directly to the health, safety and welfare of residents are provided not by the government directly but through contracts and public-private partnerships with nonprofit organizations. That allows for leveraging the partnership and cost sharing with communities.

Unfortunately, as state revenue declines and lawmakers look to cut budgets at every turn, services for our most vulnerable residents are often on the chopping block first.

Financial cuts compounded with increased demand will force a reactive system that is able to serve only people in serious need.

That may look good on the books, but in the long run there will be serious consequences for local communities and the state, with higher levels of care needed. A reactive system is no longer able to provide early interventions to keep people at lower levels from experiencing crisis. Having the ability to be proactive allows early interventions that may ward off the necessity for more intensive — and more expensive — services later.

After working in social services for many years I have learned how important systems are in working with vulnerable populations. I have also learned that it rarely ever comes down to one intervention or agency. As the human service groups collaborate to address gaps and trends, how systems affect each other becomes more apparent. What affects one agency affects them all in some way.

I started thinking more about this after attending many of the community forums with election candidates. A great deal of time and attention was spent discussing the housing crisis and the impact on the community. It makes sense, and I think none of us are surprised at this point to hear that housing problems are causing a great deal of stress to many in our community. It becomes obvious that the solutions will take more than one intervention or organization and will require a communitywide response.

The same time and attention is needed when looking at essential social services. Community issues — financial strain on the working class, cost of living, housing, and growth and development — can strain the entire system, reducing the efficacy of interventions and social service organizations.

Our community is at a tipping point, and the response to social services needs to be communitywide to make an impact. That includes not only the human service agencies but also elected officials, business leaders, donors and other community stakeholders.

Added stress in the environment can exacerbate the issue, and the repercussions are felt by employers, law enforcement, hospital and schools, putting even more stress on social service systems. The ultimate consequence, and tragedy, is that vulnerable people fall through the cracks and a vibrant and diverse community is lost.

According to census numbers we have about 24,000 people living in Teton County. But that number does not represent the commuter communities, seasonal employees and visitors we also serve.

While there are many resources and agencies that deal with specific areas such as youth crisis, domestic violence, substance abuse, the elderly and disabled, early child development and community mental health, it is additionally the responsibility of each of us as community members.

These agencies are committed to meeting the needs of this community and work together to address needs not just for their organization but for the entire system.


Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work.