Monday, September 13, 1999

Many calls
for help going

Most isle hungry are being
fed, but a referral service finds
few funds for children or rent

By Mary Adamski


Art When folks at Aloha United Way ASK-2000 field phone calls for help, they have 3,500 places to send the seekers.

But sometimes the answer is: There is just no place to go for the help you need.

That's been true for years for people who can't pay their rent or utility bills, said Dorothy Colby, executive director of the referral service. This year, resources dried up for people who wanted aid in paying for child care.

In the first half of this year, 150 people called seeking child-care subsidies.

"About 50 were not welfare recipients," Colby said. "We could not help them out at all."

The only sources for subsidies are two state agencies, formerly open to all families. But Child Care Connection last year began limiting its clients to welfare recipients. And since April, the Open Doors Program stopped accepting new clients.

Six hundred people called looking for assistance in paying their rent. There's only a 45 percent success rate in finding rent assistance and 40 percent in getting help for utility bills, according to the AUW ASK-2000 report on the first half of 1999.

"The need for rent and utilities has been the top unmet need for five years. The demand hasn't changed," said Colby.

"It's bad and it hasn't improved."

The hardest need to fill

It takes strategies and networking for help-line volunteers to figure out where to send rent seekers.

"There's a number of agencies who do help pay the bills, but some of them may be out of money at any given time," said Colby. Some provide help for specific categories -- such as elderly or handicapped people -- and assistance is often designated for people about to be evicted.

"It has always been the hardest need to fill. A given agency will get a certain amount in a grant, but it doesn't take too long to go through that."

On the success side of the ledger, the top need of callers is food, and the success rate is 84 percent. The six-month report counted 1,010 referrals to food pantries, group meal sites and meals-on-wheels providers.

Colby said there are more than 100 resources for those who need food, and again, "we have to match them up. For instance, a church food pantry may only serve families in their area."

Spokesman Chad Buchanan of the Salvation Army, which provides food, rental assistance and services for many callers, said the person seeking financial help is not necessarily homeless or on welfare.

Many needy are employed

"It is definitely more and more people with residences who aren't able to make it," he said.

"Sixty-five percent of the people who come have some type of employment and are not able to meet their monthly bills."

About 60 percent of Salvation Army food distribution is directed to families, and the remainder to single people, a change from the 50-50 split two years ago.

The group also is seeing more and more who need medical assistance, such as people in the state-sponsored Quest program, which doesn't pay for medications.

Meanwhile, state funding has shrunk.

"State funding is about two-fifths of our budget," said Buchanan. "The Legislature approved the funds but the governor has frozen the funds, anticipating a deficit. We are looking at a significant decrease for the rest of the year."

He added: "We don't have much funding. We are forced to make a choice. Shelter is the priority, a family who needs a house. It's not the most wonderful decision to have to make."

ASK-2000 started nine years ago as a partnership with the state.

This year, Aloha United Way took over entirely and now funds its $250,000 annual budget. Its operators handle about 60,000 calls a year.

Hopeful resources

Information about service providers and more is also available at the ASK-2000 Web site,

E-mail to City Desk

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