Santa Clara County's Social Services Agency has launched a pilot program to staff "satellite offices" at nonprofit organizations with county social workers in the northern part of the county.
The program has long been pushed by Supervisor Joe Simitian to make access to vital services easier for more residents especially those in communities such as Palo Alto and Mountain View since most services are located in San Jose.
Earlier this year, Simitian helped secure a new Mountain View office for the Social Services Agency after it lost the lease on its previous location.
But "while having an office close to our clients is tremendously helpful, it still presents challenges, particularly for people without reliable, affordable transportation," he said.
In July, Simitian proposed that the county administration explore ways to send social services staff to North County and West Valley nonprofit groups for one or two days per week, a practice sometimes called "co-location," on a trial basis.
Starting in November, sites began hosting the social workers and Second Harvest Food Bank representatives at their offices one day a week. With this model, clients are able to receive services from their local nonprofits and apply for medical and food aid through the county at the same time and place, he said in a Dec. 1 announcement.
North County and West Valley nonprofit partners include Community Services Agency of Mountain View-Los Altos, InnVision Shelter Network in Palo Alto, Sunnyvale Community Services, and West Valley Community Services. These organizations already provide safety-net services that complement county-run programs.
"These programs serve the county's most vulnerable residents. 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 limited resources," Simitian said. "In many ways, this is a lot like the Sidewalk Office Hours I hold throughout my district. Accessibility is key. And frankly, I think we all learn a lot when we get out of the office."
Mila Zelkha, spokeswoman for Palo Alto-based InnVision Shelter Network, said the organization is already seeing clients who receive or qualify for county-administered benefits such as CalFresh or CalWorks.
"It just makes good sense to put as many services as possible together in one place," she said.
Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto of West Valley Community Services agreed.
"We have clients who are juggling work, childcare, and limited transportation access. Before, we had to tell them to go to another office in another city to access county programs. A one-stop-shopping approach helps them tremendously," she said.
Social services staff were temporarily housed in the offices of North County nonprofits during the county agency's transition to the new Mountain View location earlier this year, according to Simitian.
"It worked well for the county, the nonprofits, and our constituents. It was a winner all around. The county has built strong partnerships with local nonprofits, and this takes those partnerships and our services to the next level. We are serving more clients, more easily, and more effectively," he said.