Neighborly way is best

Let’s take a return trip to the Bainbridge Island Health, Housing and Human Services needs assessment report for 2007-2008. Other than emphasizing that there is a shortage of affordable housing for families and seniors to rent or buy, the survey of agencies and providers revealed that there continues to be a large gap between the services accessible to low-income residents when compared to most islanders.

It’s not uncommon, of course, since those with money need only to pick up the phone and their needs are quickly taken care of while those without may have transportation, mobility, health or other problems that complicate their ability to get help. They often need to turn to nonprofit agencies such as Helpline House, the senior center or groups that fit under the HHHS umbrella. And while they are respected for their caring response to those seeking help, there will always be more people serving the haves than helping the have-nots. That’s just the way it goes; lines can get long when dollars are short.

Transportation, for example, is often a headache for island residents who do not or cannot drive, especially when compared to services readily available whether they’re in King County or western Kitsap County. Timely emergency medical and dental care for seniors can be lacking here despite an aging population that figures to increase dramatically during the next five years. Here are a few comments from people in the know about the island’s human services system, including what they think is working and what is lacking:

• “It is doing well, but the need for the areas of housing, affordable medical services, drug education and prevention, and others outstrip the resources available to meet these needs more completely. Those who are working on these are doing a good job, but the need is great.”

• “The human service element has been tailored to meet (most) demands of an affluent population. Conflict occurs when the wants of the wealthy vs. the needs of the low-income populations conflict.”

• “There appears to be mutual support, coordination and communication between agencies. This is something I have not experienced in other communities.”

• “Many in the Bainbridge community are indifferent because of their economic comfort.”

• “Affordable housing is such a difficult issue for our community. I am not sure if it is an issue that people are really willing to support with their tax dollars in the same way they support schools, parks, city services, libraries, etc.”

• “Identify ‘sleeping poverty.’ Bainbridge has many children and adults that are living on the edge but are too proud to access services. It has to be OK to ask.”

Helpline House serves about 500 households each month through its food bank, and the provider is certain that hundreds more are hesitant to reach out despite the need.

Perhaps the need most difficult to quantify is affordable health care. It was identified as a serious problem in the 2002 Needs Assessment Review, and the number of uninsured and underinsured is increasing, though health-care professionals say it has become a “hidden” problem. In response, six years ago Peninsula Community Health Clinic opened a once-a-week clinic at The Commons for those in need, but scheduling was problematic and after six months it closed.

About 70 percent of PCHC’s 17,000-plus annual clients are either uninsured (21 percent) or need their Medicaid plans supplemented; 257 islanders found their way to the Poulsbo clinic last year, often referred there by fellow islanders.

At the Winslow Clinic, about 25 percent of its patients are underinsured. The clinic also sees some patients with no insurance, though often the uninsured wait until they have an emergency before getting help. All in all, it’s a serious problem locally and it’s only getting bigger.

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