The community social worker with the town Department of Health and Human Services briefed the Bedford Board of Health last week on programs and partnerships available to assist residents.
Christopher Bang’s agenda ranged from food and shelter to mental health and substance abuse. “It’s all about connecting people to services and programs to address needs and navigate crises,” he told the board.
Bang’s social worker clients are between the ages of 18 and 60. Mallory Fuller, who recently joined the staff, specializes in children and adolescents, and Danika Castle works through the Council on Aging for the older cohort.
“The biggest issues I have been facing in the last couple of months are utilities and heating,” Bang said in his presentation. “And rents – over the past year people have been struggling with rent.”
Fuel assistance is available through the department’s partnership with Lowell-based Community Teamwork, Inc., and the Health and Human Services Department helps eligible residents with applications and documentation, he said, adding that last year 70 households benefited.
“For the last couple of years, we also have been offering free winter coats, and this year we expanded from kids to adults,” Bang continued. The clothing comes not only from the organization Cradles to Crayons but also from donations by local residents, he said.
Two weeks ago, the department distributed 60 coats, Bang said. “We don’t worry about income eligibility – if they’re cold, they need a coat,” added Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter. Board Chair Susan Schwartz noted that winter hats, made by members of the Bedford Arts and Crafts Society, are available through the food bank.
“We connect people with ways to help pay down and ultimately avoid eviction,” Bang said. He advises eligible residents on how to stay protected from eviction while their applications for the state RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) are processing.
Asked how many households are dealing with the prospect of eviction, Bang said the number is “in the 10s, and each case can be complicated.”
Bang said food insecurity remains a concern. “We are making sure people are aware of the food bank, open and available to residents in need, and getting people connected to federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) resources and building their capacity to be less food insecure,” he said.
That includes working with counselors in the schools to inform households about SNAP eligibility and other connections for relief. Bang noted that he is concerned about the impact of possible reductions on the federal allocation for SNAP.
The presentation also outlined the department’s mental health offerings, through the Youth and Family Services office.
“If you have a mental health issue you want to address, our office is the point of contact,” he said. “We may not have all the resources but we can connect people and get them set up for services.”
That includes partnerships with regional agencies, such as Eliot Community Human Services, which sponsors a full-time social worker in the Town Center offices for children and adolescents, Bang said, and there’s no co-pay required. “Lack of insurance is not a barrier for starting therapy,” he emphasized. Bang added that additional resources are available at Eliot’s Concord clinic and via telehealth.
A new arrangement is with Advocates Community Behavioral Health Center, at 657 Main St. in Waltham. The regional resource can counsel individuals and groups with crisis stabilization and triage services for substance abuse, he said. The walk-in service is also open on weekends.
Another service is called Interface, an arrangement with Newton-based William James College. Bang said graduate-level students collect vital information and then match the clients – residents and Bedford High School students – with mental health experts. Since November, about 25 have used that service, Bang reported.
In answer to a question, Bang reported that “substance abuse is definitely something that we track at our at-risk meetings. I haven’t had a lot of direct referrals; there has been a handful over the past year from family members or concerned friends.” He added that his office publicizes contact information for the substance abuse hotline in public places, including at gas stations.
Porter added that although overdoses are addressed by first responders, her department works with police to provide resources.