Future uncertain for county's `Safety Net'

Program helps people find resources

POLK COUNTY -- Sometimes, the problem is easily solved.

In the case of a local boy who was skipping school, a pair of gym shorts fit the bill.

"It was so simple," said Kathy Wenos, Polk County Community Safety Net coordinator.

The boy hadn't been going to school because his family couldn't afford the required shorts for gym class.

"He just didn't know how to deal with it," Wenos said.

Sometimes, the problem isn't so easily solved.

Each day can be overwhelming to a recently single mom looking for work while struggling to take care of three children on her own.

"In that event, we can help with a one-time utility bill emergency, refer them to people who can help with their housing needs, whatever they might need," Wenos said.

"There are always ways we can help."

That fact helps keep Wenos herself going when budgets are uncertain and there's no shortage of clients with problems.

Like many government-funded programs, right now everything is up in the air for the Polk Community Safety Net, a resource for families looking for everything from respite care to help with a child in trouble.

"We haven't been given any word at all about funding. We're waiting for the Legislature," Wenos said.

"But we're moving forward and taking care of the day to day, trying not to let funding sidetrack our focus," she said, adding that the program fields about 40 requests a month from Polk County families.

The safety net program is also a resource for concerned neighbors and friends who want to refer a family or individual for assistance of many kinds.

Sometimes Wenos gets calls from people concerned about possible child abuse.

Getting a call you didn't ask for from a stranger offering assistance with your family's needs can be a bit disconcerting. "The folks we call or contact are wary sometimes, but we let them know working with us is voluntary, that we're there to support them and find resources that will meet their needs."

One of the most requested referrals is for parenting classes and help with children who have special challenges. Unable to help families pay for direct services, sometimes Wenos helps people figure out how their insurance works, then hooks them up with someone who can fill in the gaps insurance doesn't cover.

"Sometimes it's just one little think that you can do to help a family, to get them stabilized so they're in the position to take care of other issues because they're not so overwhelmed," Wenos said.

The Community Safety Net program accepts donations and direct contributions that can be earmarked to help a family with a particular need, like medical care, clothing for children or utilities.

"We're all about helping keep children safe and healthy, increasing family stability, self-sufficiency and resiliency while helping support resources in our community that can help families," Wenos said. "We focus on families being successful."

An advisory committee helps Wenos with staffing cases and planning. Made up of representatives from different agencies like Sable House, the Main Street Center, public health, senior and disabled services, the Polk County Commission for Children and Families and a "consumer parent," the committee, which is state-mandated, is a vital resource with valuable field experience, Wenos said.

Anyone interested in Community Safety Net can call Wenos at 503-623-0264. If there are concerns or questions about child abuse, call the child abuse hotline number at 503-378-6704 or Wenos.


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