City still has a critical human services function | Guest Column | Oct. 28

The Health, Housing and Human Services Council of Bainbridge Island (HHHS) ceased providing service to our community in January 2011.

Recently, I performed the last few official acts as board president of HHHS. Ending something is always difficult even if with that ending something new arises.

In 1993, the Bainbridge Island City Council approved an ordinance that created HHHS. In 2000, HHHS was charged with the responsibility of shepherding the effective, efficient and equitable implementation of our city’s Human Services Element of the Comprehensive Plan.

The mission of HHHS included: fostering improvements in the range, delivery and quality of programs serving our community; assuring access to all island residents in need; promoting long-range planning; enhancing coordination of services across our network of care; and identifying emerging and/or shifting health and human service needs through community needs assessments and public forums.

The financial crisis contributed to a steep cut in HHHS’ operating budget. Our’ volunteer board of directors made the very difficult decision that HHHS could no longer carry out its obligations to implement our mission while preserving with integrity the essential breadth of its scope. As a result, HHHS closed its doors in January of this year.

We are proud to have served our community and to have worked to preserve a human face on the Comprehensive Plan.

We are also honored to have been trusted to act as the principal advisory and programmatic arm for the City Council and mayor on matters pertaining to the development and delivery of health, housing and human services to the Bainbridge Island community.

As of late January of this year, the HHHS Board of Directors ceded responsibility for the appropriate implementation of the Human Services Element to the City Council.

As a community, our obligations to each other remain the same. The ravages of the economic crisis play themselves out every day in ways that affect us all and, sometimes, in ways that jeopardize our or our neighbors’ health and housing.

It is our hope that existing resources will be wisely allocated and overseen in order to ensure that the “human face” of our need is not lost in the glare of budgetary woes.

We also hope that future improvements of the economic climate will permit our community to, again, take up the implementation of the Human Services Element in a judicious, informed and effective manner.

New elections will bring new members to our City Council. To current and future members of our community that take on the great responsibility of governing our city, we make the following recommendations:

• Develop a plan for dedicated, stable financing to provide efficient, coordinated health, housing and human services on Bainbridge Island.

Important needs will persist for policy that dedicates funding across a comprehensive network of service agencies and aimed at fostering coordination, creating efficiencies, assuring equity and increasing overall effectiveness of the network.

• Assure that city dollars go to what the city can do best. Prioritize investment in assessment of the problems facing Bainbridge residents, how those problems evolve and, consequently, target precious financial resources to what will make the biggest difference.

Service providing agencies can focus fundraising efforts on visible problems such as hungry families, caregivers needing respite or children requiring after-school care. It is not as easy but just as important to fund assessment of community-wide needs, staying ahead of evolving needs and assuring that less visible areas of need are attended to.

• Think beyond city financing to develop approaches that serve to maximally leverage and coordinate all available funding.

Direct services are primarily funded by private giving. There is more “bang for the buck” when public dollars are used to enhance or leverage private funding.

This recommendation highlights the importance of advocacy across the whole as opposed to focus on the individual parts.

• Protect from disinterest and vested interest through independent community oversight. It is important that council works to assure that public funding of service providers does not function simply to preserve the status quo.

Instead, it will be important to assure that precious public dollars are distributed to service agencies in ways that are equitable and that are advised by clear awareness of the breadth of existing and evolving critical need.

• Sustain our island’s unique commitment to human services. There are many island residents who would find it unacceptable to fill one more pothole if it meant serving one less hungry family or needy child.

Bainbridge Island is a giving, caring community that endorses and supports the promotion of island-wide health. It prioritizes the good of the neediest among us and recognizes that, in so doing, the community benefits as a whole.  This defines Bainbridge and it is an important part of what makes us unique.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of our community’s Human Services Element and the work performed by HHHS over the years in support of it, please navigate to the HHHS website www.bihhhs.org.

The website shall remain open, but inactive, for some time to come.

Roberto Gurza is president of the Health, Housing and Human Services Council.


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