Contra Costa Safety Net Initiative Innovation Network
There has been an effort underway in Contra Costa County for the last four years to understand and to respond to the erosion of safety net services – shelter, food, community safety, and health – that has occurred as a result of ten years of steady budget cuts. John Cullen, the former County Administrator in Contra Costa and a social service advocate, initiated the conversation in 2008, mostly as an inquiry into whether funders were aware of the policy changes that were resulting in the elimination of many services and the serious deterioration of others. John invited me (I was then CEO of The CBO Center in Contra Costa County) to partner with him on this effort and, together, we set out to interview most of the major Contra Costa funders: The San Francisco Foundation, the California Endowment, the East Bay Community Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, and Y&H Soda Foundation.
Our subsequent report to the Contra Costa Funders Forum stated clearly that (in 2008): 1) the “new normal” of greatly reduced government funding for basic services was going largely unnoticed by local foundations; 2) the enrichment and enhancement innovations that local foundations favored would be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to implement when the target populations were increasingly without food, housing, health care, and safety; and, 3) there was a pressing need for dialogue around how the various communities in Contra Costa could and should respond to this phenomenon.
On August 1, more than 100 community members from nonprofits, county government, local law enforcement, and foundations gathered for the first of four day-long sessions on Safety Net Innovation. (KGO News covered the event and the story led their news broadcast that evening. Here is a link to the story.) Participants were there to figure out how to envision and perhaps reinvent the safety net of services that a healthy region must offer and how to create a “safety ladder” – a term coined at the August 1 event – that can be used to climb out of situational and generational poverty. Building on the work of the Safety Net Summit held in May 2011, this latest effort aspires to unite Contra Costa County communities around the creation of a just, vibrant, and compassionate quality of life for all residents by rethinking our assumptions and looking more deeply for understanding and new insights about who accesses the safety net and why.
None of the 100+ community members attending was paid to come to the meeting. Neither were the Safety Net Initiative Task Force members (see the full list of task force members and funders at the end of this post) who have devoted hundreds of hours to meetings, to planning, to research, to communications, to writing, and to more meetings. And when you consider that we were all able to participate because our organizations sanctioned this work, well, the commitment is staggering.
There are no shortcuts to finding innovative solutions to deep, complex community issues, but we got a little further down that path yesterday. It was impossible to look around the room and not think, “If not us, then who?” We’ll keep you posted on this critical Contra Costa County effort.
By Liz Callahan, Director of East Bay Services/Senior Project Director
Safety Net Initiative Task Force Members:
- Marianne Balin, Kaiser Permanente
- Jim Becker, Richmond Community Foundation
- Linda Best, Contra Costa Council
- Paul Buddenhagen, Contra Costa Employment and Human Services
- Liz Callahan, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services
- Sean Casey, First 5 Contra Costa
- John Cullen, Contra Costa County Administrator (ret.)
- Harmesh Kumar, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County
- Mariana Moore, Human Services Alliance of Contra Costa
- Loren Needle, United Way of the Bay Area
- Kathleen Odne, Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation
- Wanda Session, Contra Costa Health Services
- Larry Sly, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
- Bob Uyeki, Y&H Soda Foundation
- William Walker, Contra Costa Health Services
Funding Support Provided by:
- Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation
- East Bay Community Foundation
- John Muir Health
- Kaiser Permanente
- United Way of the Bay Area
- Y&H Soda Foundation