Municipal support of human services varies
Niles 9/11/12 The director of deptartment of Human Services at the Niles Family Services center Seth Knobel stands outside of the center. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 21, 2012 8:47AM
The debate over governmental support of human needs services has been raging in Park Ridge for several years now.
Though the city’s financial contributions to outside human services organizations were eliminated this year, surrounding municipalities like Des Plaines, Morton Grove and Niles, as well as Maine Township, continue to fund several services.
The Niles Family Services Department, a division of the Human Services Department, provides counseling, crisis intervention and food to those requesting it. The department’s budget of about $800,000 is from the Niles’ general fund, department director Seth Knobel said.
“The mission is to be able to help with the full emotional needs of the residents of Niles,” Knobel said.
The department is staffed by four full-time and seven part-time social workers. Fees are determine based on income and counseling sessions can be paid through health insurance. There are about 250 sessions a week.
The department also operates an emergency food pantry for families who qualify.
Other village departments may refer citizens to the department for help. A police officer who responds to a domestic problem within a family is one such example.
“One of the things that is extremely unique is that we are seen as an intricate part within the village,” Knobel said. “Our department works with every other department in one capacity or another.”
In Morton Grove, the Department of Family and Senior Services also offers counseling and financial assistance, with an annual budget of $95,000.
“I would say it seems to be adequate,” Jackie Walker O’Keefe said. “The village has been very generous in terms of providing some financial assistance monies.”
And given the economy, emergency financial help is a common request. According to O’Keefe it is “probably the No. 1 thing” clients are seeking when they reach out.
The maximum amount provided per year is $300 per household. Short-term counseling is the next most common service offered.
Because O’Keefe is the only licensed social worker on staff, she often refers clients to other sources. For instance, she arranged transportation through the American Cancer Society for a client unable to travel for cancer treatments.
Both Niles and Morton Grove also receive funding from The Salvation Army for emergency assistance. O’Keefe said this money can be used to help residents with a utility payment, rent, or a medical bill. Up to $200 can be provided per household.
Morton Grove also has a village nurse who provides health screenings, home visits, medical case management and health education program. A similar service is offered by Des Plaines’ Health and Human Services Department.
Maine Township’s General Assistance Department provides several services to township residents, including an emergency food pantry, counseling, a subsidized taxi program, and financial assistance for rent, utilities and clothing.
Instead of a city-funded human services department, Park Ridge has a Human Needs Task Force which consists of representatives of several outside agencies, churches and schools who meet monthly to discuss the needs and activities of their groups. The task force does not receive funding.
“It’s a networking organization,” said Co-Chairman Dean Whitford. Members learn about community needs and direct people to the agencies that can assist..
Such agencies include MaineCenter, which provides counseling services, and Center of Concern, which offers counseling, financial assistance, and home-sharing opportunities.
Neither Whitford nor Co-Chairman Floyd Kortenhof said they felt Park Ridge would benefit from having its own human services department.
“When needs are brought to us, we’re able to help these people,” Kortenhof said.