Champions of Collaboration

by Rich Draeger
The Salvation Army

It’s up to all of us to work together to answer the problems facing our communities.

Collaboration is a word heard often these days. Defined loosely as “something created by working jointly with another or others,” it is certainly a must in today’s competitive society.

Even in the nonprofit sector, walls are beginning to come down, and agencies, funders and social service entities are working side by side to address issues that were once faced in a much more solitary fashion. Gone are the days of merely “doing what we do” and operating as standalone service providers. What once was a rarity has become a necessity—not only to those we serve, but to the nonprofits themselves. As noted in a 2010 report from the Illinois Human Services Commission:

Human services were often developed one program at a time, in a piecemeal fashion to address changing needs over time. Each human service program was created out of the recognition of a specific need and resolution, reached by the majority of those elected to serve the collective interests of our society. Each has been refined and changed over the years as needed, to respond to changing needs, funding and best practices.

So while the state’s recent budget woes have garnered much attention the past three or four years, the truth is that the social service arena has long struggled to remain viable and fully funded. This is where the collaboration piece becomes even more relevant.

Collaboration is Key
For many years, The Salvation Army has been one of several area groups providing services to the homeless. Funding realities have changed the landscape of service to this population, and today, we find ourselves working more closely than ever with this sector, especially homeless men.

Our Safety Net program, which was once merely a cot program, has evolved through funding challenges and staffing needs to become a fully robust program serving homeless men in the Peoria area. But instead of many social service providers all doing their own programs in a vacuum, collaboration is the key to success.

A few years back when federal HUD dollars were lost, The Salvation Army was forced to discontinue its full programs for homeless men, and even shut down the program for a period of time. Then, bolstered by a coalition that included the City of Peoria, Peoria County and United Way, the program resumed after a few months.

While that was a temporary answer, the groundwork was being laid to rebuild the program. OSF HealthCare stepped in to provide much-needed funding for case managers, but rather than being hired and trained by The Salvation Army, this support allowed case managers from the South Side Office of Concern (SSOC) to be on-site at The Salvation Army. This partnership, fostered through the Heart of Illinois United Way and Continuum of Care, accomplishes several key items:

  • It identified a willing financial partner, OSF HealthCare—which also gets a benefit from reduced visits to their Emergency Department;
  • It provides an answer to a need from The Salvation Army—which had the clients, but not the staff or means to fully address their challenges; and
  • It utilizes an agency with trained staff, who are working with the same homeless population, to expand their role in the community.

Simply put, had it not been for the Continuum of Care, Heart of Illinois United Way, OSF HealthCare, South Side Office of Concern and The Salvation Army working together to address this need in our community, many of these homeless men would face uncertain futures.

A Group Effort
While the program has only been in place for a few months, early outcomes are very positive. In just the first month of the collaboration, 120 homeless men were served by the program, with 60 seeking out case management from the SSOC case workers. Of those 60 homeless men, ten were placed in permanent housing.

As football legend Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I would suggest that collaboration is the tool by which individual commitments to this group effort are making a difference in the lives of so many here in central Illinois.

With social service funding seemingly on the chopping block every year in Illinois, we must continue to work together to answer the problems facing our communities. What can you do to help? Get involved, ask questions and keep supporting your causes. This is on all of us: the public sector, the private sector and the nonprofit sector.

Let’s keep looking for ways to champion collaboration in central Illinois, whether we are volunteers, donors or service providers. It’s the only way. iBi

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