More and more Watertown residents are showing up at social service providers looking for help paying utility bills, with substance abuse or mental issues, among others, but the town does not have a coordinated effort direct them to the help they need.
Tuesday night, officials from organizations that provide social services to town resident came to the Human Services Committee to make the case for the need for a social services coordinator.
Town Councilor Tony Palomba, the chairman of the Human Services Committee, said he wants the town to create the position and pay for the person with a mix of public and private funds.
From 1968 to 1993, the town had a Human Services Department based at the Watertown Multi-Services Center, said Will Twombly, a member of First Parish Church and the Council on Aging.
The town stopped funding the Human Services Department in 1993, though the Multi-Services Center continues to provide some counseling and services. It is now merged with Wayside Youth and Family Support Network.
The biggest need is people who are older than school age but are not yet seniors, Twombly said.
“The greatest need is for people 16 to 60 and those not in public schools,” Twombly said.
The Watertown Public Schools have services for its students and those over 60 can go to the Senior Center or Springwell for services.
These days, services are provided by a variety of agencies, including Wayside Multi-Service Center, the Council on Aging, the Marshall Home Fund, the Helen Robinson Wright Fund, Advocates and WIC (Women, Infant and Children Program).
Looking at just some of those agencies, they worked on nearly 1,200 cases, including 223 youth and 1,010 adults and families, in 2011, according to Laura Kurman, program director of the Wayside Multi-Service Center.
Nancy Dutton, who is the administrator for the Helen Robinson Wright Fund and the First Parish Church, said the fund used to give almost all its grants to organizations in town, and now gives almost all its money to individuals.
Grants will be given for utility bills, medical bills and other things, Dutton said, but they often need other help. There are many people in need.
“We are overwhelmed,” Dutton said. “I can’t give them the time that is needed, nor do I have the training, but I know the resources.”
She finds people are thankful just to have someone listen to them.
“Often there are tears,” Dutton said.
Sarah Abbott, the Jail Diversion Director at Advocates Inc., said her program has someone assigned to ride with Watertown Police to try to steer people to treatment rather than having police arrest them and send them to jail.
She described one recent incident where a person was found “huffing” fumes from an aerosol can in front of the CVS in Watertown Square. The jail diversion counselor tried to help, but it about 10 p.m. and no social services were open.
“She wasn’t able to give him an number, and it left her (the counselor) disheartened,” Abbott said.
Vision for the Position
Palomba said he envisions having a person working for the Watertown Health Department who agencies could refer people to and who could find people the services needed to help all their problems.
“The idea of having a card you can give to people and say, ‘Here, call this person,’ is powerful,” Palomba said.
The social services coordinator would be a master’s degree level social worker. The proposed salary for the position would be $60,000, which includes $20,000 for health insurance and other benefits. The money would be split between the town and private sources.
The Human Services Committee did not take action on Tuesday, but Palomba said he hopes the position will become a reality, and hopefully by next year.
“The (Town) manager (Michael Driscoll) has not put his final budget together, and this is on the Town Council’s priorities,” Palomba said. “It’s out there now, and I hope people will consider adding the (social services coordinator) position this budget year.”