RADIANCE BLOG

Category: Human Services

Public health policy and advocacy in Colorado: A case study in tobacco and vaping

In an interview with a public health practitioner recently, the interviewee noted that one of the challenges for public health is that “when we are doing our jobs well, the public doesn’t really see what we do.” This holds true for two of the roles the public often looks to public health organizations for guidance: translating research into public health policy and advocacy. When public health policy and advocacy are addressing the problem, we don’t see it.  

Photo by Nery Zarate on Unsplash.
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Exploring the World of Public Health

As we kick off a new quarter of blogging at Corona Insights, I’m especially excited to announce that we will be focusing on public health this quarter. Beyond the personal connection I have to the field through my wife—a current graduate student at the Colorado School of Public Health—we’ve had the opportunity at Corona recently to think broadly about the state of public health, including what the work entails, who works in the field, and where public health is heading in the future.  On top of that, this week is National Public Health Week.

Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash
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Community Challenges Recap

This quarter, we spent some time thinking and writing about some of the key issues that our local communities are facing and offered some suggestions on how some communities are facing those challenges. 

We explored the rapid population growth Colorado is experiencing, including an analysis that shows how one Colorado county has experienced 9,900% growth in the past century.  That population growth has forced communities to seek creative solutions to the country’s housing affordability crisis

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9,900% Growth

Many of our clients throughout Colorado are experiencing and planning for population growth. Looking at the skyline around the Denver Metro area, you might see more than a dozen construction cranes from one viewpoint. Near my home, formerly vacant land is being and plotted for new houses. According to the Colorado State Demographer, Colorado’s population is expected to grow by 76,000 people in 2019 alone (for reference, the City of Loveland has a population of about 76,000).

Downtown Denver (photo by Henry Desro on Unsplash)
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The Challenging Landscape of Public Education

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

While Denver Public Schools has managed to limit its first teacher strike in 25 years to three days, the reality that it had to come to that is an indicator of a fact that has become common knowledge around the country: public education is hard.  While most agree that teachers are chronically underpaid in many areas of the country, few agree on what can be done about it.  In Colorado, there is an unending debate about how to pay for education, roads, and healthcare, and most of the ballot initiatives aimed at raising taxes to support these priorities fail.  While we at Corona won’t be solving all these problems in this blog, we wanted to highlight a few of our clients who have made moves to improve the educational landscape in recent years.

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Communities Seek Creative Solutions to the Country’s Housing Affordability Crisis

While working on a recent project assessing the housing market for the City of Fort Collins, we were struck by how communities across the state and the country were pursuing diverse strategies to the current housing affordability crisis. The fourth quarter of 2018 saw national home affordability drop to a 10-year low. Residents in our hometown of Denver are all too familiar with this dynamic. A recent report identified the city as hosting the most competitive housing market in the nation. Members of the country’s middle class are increasingly viewing home ownership as unfeasible. The vast majority of Americans find themselves in markets where home prices are rising faster than wages. It should not be surprising that renting is more affordable than owning in 59% of the nation’s counties. That number jumps to 93% of the country’s most populated areas (those with more than 1 million people).

Photo by Breno Assis on Unsplash
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Human Services Blog Series Recap

As September winds down, we’re wrapping up our quarterly blog series on Human Services here at Corona Insights.  When we got together to plot out this series we had a lot of discussion around themes and patterns that we’ve seen in our work with human services organizations as we’re providing evaluation, research, and strategic consulting. The three themes that felt the most compelling and drove our writing for this quarter were these:

We’ve really enjoyed taking a step back to think about common themes among all our human service projects. We hope you have too.

To stay on top of everything we cover, sign up for our quarterly newsletter, The Corona Observer.

Be sure to stay tuned to the Radiance Blog next quarter for our next blog series topic!


Colorado Housing Affordability: Challenges and Solutions

Ensuring that people can access adequate housing has long been a core concern for human service agencies and providers. Stable housing helps people stay healthy, remain connected to the community, and have peace of mind. With the advent of evidence-based approaches, such as Housing First, human service organizations have invested even more resources into this issue.

Yet lately, this topic has become even more urgent throughout Colorado. Increasing housing prices for both renting and buying creates more difficult hurdles. From the Great Plains to the Front Range and on through the Western Slope, communities are experiencing tougher and broader housing challenges. Some of our recent research has helped these communities understand housing challenges to prioritize ways to overcome them.

Challenges

In a recent survey, we found that the affordable housing situation has gotten worse in most of Colorado’s cities and towns over the past three years. A lack of affordable housing has steadily become a more common challenge for communities since 2012, when the economy began to recover after the Great Recession.

A shortage of accessible housing begets other human service issues. Indeed, most communities in Colorado have had a difficult time recruiting and retaining a workforce due to affordable housing challenges, and many communities have seen local worker commute times increase because of a lack of local affordable housing.

Almost all medium and large cities in Colorado have witnessed a rise in people experiencing homelessness over the past three years. Even though that increase is not entirely caused by a lack of affordable housing, an increase in homeless people does frequently affect local law enforcement and parks and recreation departments, demanding more resources. Homelessness effect on police and parks was true regardless of community size or region in the state.

Solutions

Our research has found that many communities are rising to meet the challenges of affordable housing. Most midsized to large communities either currently have a housing affordability plan or intend to create one soon; most also have a plan to address homelessness. However, other potential solutions, such as subsidizing workforce housing or creating a dedicated tax, are uncommon. Maybe these solutions, or other innovative ideas, can help communities address their challenges.

If your community is facing these issues, consider conducting a housing needs assessment. Needs assessments can range from simple analysis of existing demographic data to extensive engagements, including hearing from people who are most affected by housing. If you are interested in learning more about how a needs assessment could help you identify housing needs and gaps in your community, give us a call; we are happy to chat.


Solidarity, Not Charity: An Approach to Dealing with Food Insecurity

In our work, we often encounter non-profits and other human services organizations that are utilizing creative and innovative solutions to problems that affect the community. As noted in previous blogs, human services needs are often interconnected and as such, organizations are increasingly having to expand their scope of work to better serve their communities. A quick review of the Colorado Department of Human Services’ webpage highlights how opioid treatment, SNAP enrollment, childhood wellness, and homelessness weave together to create the complex social challenges of our modern era. Rarely does an individual experience a singular human services need. One organization, Metro Caring, has fearlessly approached the issue of food insecurity in the Denver area, while also activating their community to address other needs of their participants.


Photo by Dana DeVolk on Unsplash.com

We’ve all heard the tropes and clichés about “American” food portions.  In 2018, we are eating more and more, yet as much as 40% of food produced goes to waste. Compared to dinner plates in 1960, today’s dinner plates have increased 36%. Given these known facts, why are more and more people struggling with hunger? In Colorado alone, 1 in 10 Coloradans struggle with hunger–meaning they do not always have enough money to buy food. A local Denver non-profit, Metro Caring, has vowed to help local residents tackle the issue of food insecurity.

Unlike many food service programs, Metro Caring focuses on providing its participants with healthy, nutritious, and fresh food and produce. Historically, emergency food programs have distributed non-perishable food items and participants have not had much, or any, choice in what food they receive. This exacerbates the food waste problem and does not enable people living with food insecurity to have access to healthy food. According to Sisi Dong Brinn, Chief Impact Officer at Metro Caring, access to healthy food options is a human right.

Participants schedule an appointment time at Metro Caring and are able to shop the shelves and refrigerators, selecting their own food items with dignity. The non-profit has also successfully partnered with local grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to ensure all participants who walk through the doors of Metro Caring can feed themselves and their families with nutritious items.

Metro Caring serves a diverse audience, including immigrants and refugees from as far away as China or the Middle East. As their participant base diversifies, the organization has instituted several programs to ensure the cultural diversity of our Denver community is embraced and shared. Above the grocery market, Metro Caring has a fully operational kitchen. On different days and times, the kitchen is utilized for cooking classes, with participants and volunteers leading cooking classes that highlight different cultural foods. The non-profit has also been able to form partnerships with corporations and local restaurants to create community gardens that supply Metro Caring with specialized produce items such as bok choy, eggplant, and chilis. Highlighting cultural differences in a positive way builds empathy and encourages community-driven connections.

Sisi Dong Brinn used the phrase “solidarity, not charity” to describe the work done at Metro Caring. Many people do not understand that empowering people to exert their own agency over food production and consumption has a more lasting impact than simply providing food. In line with the solidarity, not charity sentiment, Metro Caring offers a plethora of other human services to participants. In addition to the food services, the non-profit offers courses on financial literacy, citizenship test resources, a diabetes self-management program, and document services such as identification cards and birth certificates. Metro Caring frequently reaches out to its participants to evaluate and conduct research on which services and programs they would like to see added, augmented, or removed. Through focus groups, formal evaluation, and participant conversations, Metro Caring is consistently looking for ways to better their current and future participants. At times, Metro Caring has taken on an advocacy role. After RTD closed a nearby bus stop, Metro Caring and its participants worked together to petition for the stop to be reopened, ensuring Metro Caring participants have easy access to the organization and public transportation.

One organization cannot solve all the problems facing the Denver metro area. However, the scope of the programs and services offered at Metro Caring highlights how hunger and food insecurity are often interconnected with other systemic issues like affordable housing, employment, poverty, and mental health and well-being. Providing human services through the lens of “solidarity, not charity” ensures greater impact and enables participants to realize their own agency.