Simitian Calls for Expansion of Services in North County

North Santa Clara County residents don’t enjoy the same access to public services as the rest of the region, according to one county supervisor. A proposal to have social service workers share office space with north county nonprofits aims to change that.

Supervisor Joe Simitian announced last week that he wants to put some of the county’s Social Services Agency (SSA) staff into the offices of nonprofits, making it easier for residents to connect with important services.

Whether the SSA delivers those services is another matter. The agency has come under a lot of scrutiny over the years for, among other things, running an unsafe foster care center and dropping calls from the child abuse hotline.

Earlier this year, the county secured a new north county office for the SSA in Mountain View after losing the lease on a previous facility. Still, because the agency helps some of the most disadvantaged county residents, it’s apparently difficult for clients to even make it to the northern satellite office.

“While having an office close to our clients is tremendously helpful, it still presents challenges for people without reliable, affordable transportation,” Simitian said in a statement.

The supervisor’s proposal would put SSA staff in nonprofit offices once or twice a week, on a trial basis.

“These programs serve the county’s most vulnerable residents,” Simitian said. “Where it’s possible, I’d like us to go to them, instead of asking all of them to come to us, which is sometimes a lot to ask of those with the least resources.”

It’s a lot like the "sidewalk office hours" he holds throughout his district.

“Frankly, I think we all learn a lot when we get out of the office,” Simitian said.

Nonprofits often deal with people who qualify for county benefits, so it makes sense to co-locate with SSA staff, said Mila Zelkha of Palo Alto-based InnVision Shelter Network.

“At our offices, we’re already seeing clients that receive or qualify for county-administered benefits like CalFresh or CalWorks,” she said. “It just makes good sense to put as many services as possible in one place.”

2 Comments

  1. The Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofit (SVCN) is pleased to have Supervisor Simitian’s strong support for this initiative. SVCN and our network of 7 Emergency Assistance (EAN) Agencies serve over 100,252 clients annually . North County has 4 EAN’s including : Sunnyvale Community Services, West Valley Community Services, CSA of Mt View and Los Altos and InnVision. These EAN’s along with Sacred Heart Community Services, St. Joseph’s Family Center and Sacred Heart Community Services all look forward to working closely with the leadership at County Social Service Agency to find the best way to co locate eligibility services with these agencies. With the cooperation of both County Staff and Supervisor Simitian we will provide more streamlined services for those in need of county services such as enrollment in Medical and Cal Fresh benefit programs.

  2. I’ve sought temporary assistance from social services 3 times in my adult life, twice in Santa Clara County (once when I lived downtown, and once when I lived in Palo Alto. I also lived in Redwood City when I sought help through San Mateo County, so I can compare and contrast.

    My situations was usually short term (job ending and finding a new one before a new semester started, so I asked for help with Food Stamps to get through a few lean months. Both of my experiences in Santa Clara County were okay, and while I needed to go to orientations and do reporting forms and paperwork, I received food stamps benefits within 15 days or so, both while living in Downtown SJ and Palo Alto (accessing the Mt. View office which was really convenient for me.) I’d give Santa Clara County a B/B+ grade on their performance based on my experience.

    San Mateo County by comparison is a train wreck, where calls are dropped, documents lost that I hand delivered, and after pulling a ticket and waiting to get a receipt after seeing them scan the required documents, gettiing denied (for missing documents) and getting the run-around on the phone for weeks and weeks, before I finally went back into the office and took a number and asked to talk to a case worker who pulled up my file and told me “your documents are already in your file, I don’t know why you got turned down, let me make some notes and wait a week and call in to see if they’ve reviewed it (and after 4 weeks of repeated weekly calls, giving up and just going to the foodbank.) They get a C-/D+ grade (where it’s like a war on less affluent people who don’t belong.)

    Both agencies suffer from the DMV syndrome where it’s the only game in town, and if you need help, you have to show up at their office, pull a number, wait and wait, shuffle paperwork back and forth and finally (hopefully) get the outcome you were hoping for. I know there’s already a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank in both counties where they can help people expedite applications for CalFresh (Food Stamps) and that’s awesome. Other benefits like CalWorks and General Assistance seem to not be as networked.

    Santa Clara County was one of the first court systems in the state to bundle services in diversion courts (I volunteered as a mentor with the Veterans Court Judge Manley ran.) In my observation, this diversion of justice involved veterans really worked because of the partnerships (VA staffed the court days where veterans were connected with medical care, mental health services, housing programs, and social workers and psychologists could report to the court honestly about whether the veteran was doing well out of custody or not.) I heard the next step was a new court house with a full range of social services (not just for veterans) clustered in a new downtown court house (which I imagine would include social services. I can see how North County (Palo Alto, Mt. View, Sunnyvale) might feel left out. I love the idea of clustering services. The criminal justice thing is one angle, but you don’t want to stigmatize/scare away people by telling them they need to go to court to sign up for food stamps, etc. I’d love to see a sharing across jurisdictions (County/State/Federal/Municipal governments clustering things together for the drawing power (like a public library with a community center, permit office counter, social services county, and maybe even a DMV counter (if AAA can do it, why not a new partnership like this.) And include office space available at BMR for non-profits to lease in return for a service contract that requires them to help program classes for the community center that cover everything from dealing with abusive relationships to nutrition, prenatal care, etc.) I’d even ask one of the partner agencies working with Second Harvest to do a weekly food closet and volunteers from the community to staff it (like churches, etc.) Cluster, combine, simplify. Wouldn’t it be great if like a trip to the mall you could get lots of services in one place (register to vote, pay garbage/water bills, get new DL, renew your passport, apply for a replacement social security card, get food to take home and access to benefits for the rest of the month.)

    The greatest hurdle for Supervisor Simitian is the turf wars that keep every jurisdiction working seperately rather than pulling together for the common good of the greater community. Can state and federal workers work alongside municipal and county employees? Can non-profits work with monolithic agencies that are stuck in doing things “the way its always been done.” I think the MLK joint library (SJSU and CoSJ) is a great example of economies of scale and cooperation that pays off more for the community than two seperate entities trying to do it alone. Good luck.