To the Editor:
Athens County repeatedly comes out on top when surveyed for people living in poverty. Over 28% of our residents are living in poverty. People are experiencing more housing insecurity, and homelessness is on the rise, with families resorting to living in tents or finding temporary refuge with family or friends. Many who do have a roof over their head cannot afford the basic utilities to make those residences habitable.
You would think that with a large number of social-service agencies in the county, people in poverty would have no issue with accessing assistance. Unfortunately, many of the agencies are insulating themselves from the people they are designed to serve.
Athens County Job and Family Services (ACJFS), Hocking, Athens, Perry Community Action (HAPCAP), and others no longer offer direct access to a human voice or local interaction. You are now directed to an 800 number to make an appointment or to access recertification.
ACJFS used to have a local “help desk” number where a person in the local office would assist you. As a consequence of more barriers to low-income people being erected, many are growing frustrated and just giving up. Also, many of these automated systems require long hold periods, a major issue for people who may be using time-restricted cellphone plans.
Many of these agencies were founded or had their missions established by young, idealistic and dedicated college students of the late ’60s and ’70s. They created assistance programs and organizations that were truly dedicated to eradicating poverty in our area. Most of those young people are now retired. These agencies have now morphed into job factories, where the focus is on the staff and their benefits, rather than the well-being of the client.
While I realize that state and federal restrictions are increasing pressure on many of the programs these agencies administer, all efforts should be on easing the burden for the low-income client. Access and communication, as well as outreach, provide respect and dignity to those being served.
Randall J. Lambert