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Laconia welfare department's outreach takes inventory of area social services

Sunday News Correspondent

February 25. 2018 2:36AM

LACONIA - The city's welfare department invited representatives from a host of social services providers - both public and private - to a meeting on Friday to share what their respective agencies do and how they do it.

"It's good to get everyone here to learn about what they have to offer and have the chance to connect faces to the many different resources that are available," said Welfare Director Donna Woodaman.

During the two-hour meeting at Laconia City Hall, Gail Denio, a welfare technician for the city, fielded questions from participants and detailed the processes and criteria for applying for and receiving public assistance.

In turn, representatives from area churches and state and county agencies talked about what they offer and urged those in attendance to refer people they can help.

"There are some misconceptions about what is needed to process an application to give someone assistance. We try to be consistent with everyone," said Woodaman.

The Laconia Welfare Department provides temporary emergency assistance with basic needs including shelter, food, medication, rent and utilities. Assistance is issued in the form of a voucher paid directly to a landlord or other service provider.

For fiscal year 2018, the city's welfare budget was $143,000, which includes salaries for two employees and supplies. About half the budget is allocated to relief.

On average, the department handles 750 walk-in requests for assistance each year and fields 3,200 phone calls. It processes about 500 applications, of which about 275 to 300 qualify for assistance.

"I sometimes get phone calls from people saying they've been rejected by the city out of hand," said Deacon Russ Morey of St. Andre Bessette Parish.

"We never tell them no up front. Everyone can get an application. We will tell them that if it's a car repair we won't usually help," said Denio.

Within five working days after a completed application is submitted, the Laconia Welfare Office issues a written decision. It will notify the applicant that assistance of a specific kind and amount has been given and the time period of the aid, or that the application has been denied in whole or in part, with reasons for the denial.

It is not uncommon for people seeking assistance, Denio said, to get frustrated by the application process, which does require some supporting documentation.

Some attendees at Friday's meeting expressed concern that the application itself is a barrier to those with poor literacy skills or those dealing with drug addiction.

"If I hear a client say, 'Oh, that's a lot,' we suggest that they go to ServiceLink, who can help them fill it out," said Denio.

Siothan Connelly of Healthy Families of America urged participants to remember that each agency is trying to help people become self-sustaining, and that it takes a long time for those who have grown up feeling unworthy. Successes are rare and social service workers, whether they're paid or volunteering, need to be mindful to provide their own self-care to avoid burnout, Connelly counseled.

"It's hard on the staff to have people constantly in need of something, and there are not a lot of success stories where people are able to turn themselves around," agreed Woodaman.

Lifestyle Social issues Laconia Local and County Government

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