Even if Congress approves the plan forwarded by President Barack Obama extending unemployment compensation for one year, the nation and the Milwaukee area will still be in the shadow of an uncertain economy with more layoffs looming.
How many more people will be impacted negatively by the struggling economy going into 2011 is unclear.
What is clear is Community Advocates will be there to stand in the gap and help individuals and families who are finding it hard to help themselves.
Despite the increase in the number of people seeking his agency’s services—up 25 percent in 2010—Community Advocates CEO Joseph L. Volk said the agency won’t shrink from its mission to meet the basic needs of people and inspire hope.
A non-profit agency founded in 1976, more than 75,000 individuals each year are touched by the programs and services of Community Advocates, which provides specialized services and advocacy to help people meet such basic needs as safe and affordable housing, heat and utilities; as well as adequate health care.
The agency also provides case management, disability advocacy services to individuals with disabilities who are seeking Social Security disability benefits and services to assist people with domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues.
“We’ve put together a menu of services that reflects the problems people are having with complicated issues,” said Volk, a long time community activist who has been with Community Advocates since 1980. He’s been the agency’s CEO since 2005.
Community Advocates uses a “wraparound approach” that ensures that each client’s needs are met regardless of their point of entry. The majority of the agency’s clients are low income African Americans and other minority groups who reside in Milwaukee County.
Community Advocates’ Public Policy Institute identifies and focuses on issues affecting low-income individuals and families and develops effective strategies and actions to bring about social policy change.
To reduce barriers for some of Milwaukee’s most underserved and at-risk populations, Community Advocates is one of the few remaining organizations that welcome walk-in clients five days a week.
Instead of having the poor standing in line or going to three different places, Community Advocates puts all its services in one place “so needs are met in one shot,” Volk said in a recent interview.
That walk-in policy will still be in place when Community Advocates moves into its new headquarters on James Lovell St.—located between Wisconsin Avenue and Wells Street—on February 1.
Community Advocates works closely with a 100 member planning body, charged with eliminating homelessness in Milwaukee County. This collaborative includes representatives from a number of community-based organizations.
Community Advocates is the lead agency for Milwaukee Brighter Futures, which oversees programs for children, youth and their families that help prevent teen pregnancy, child abuse and neglect, violence, gang involvement and alcohol and drug abuse.
Recently, Community Advocates merged with Justice 2000. Justice 2000 assists people so they can stay free before they go to trial. The Justice 2000 staff is primarily stationed in the courthouse.
Another division is the Milwaukee Women’s Center, which provides emergency shelter and intervention, prevention and treatment for battered women and their children, a 24-hour crisis line, specialized services and support for older abused women, batterers treatment and case management.
The Milwaukee Women’s Center also helps meet housing and other basic needs, as well as counseling to address domestic violence and substance abuse issues.
Another notable program is Autumn West, a safe haven project that provides 27 short-term housing beds for men and women who are homeless and mentally ill. Approximately 75% of all residents in the Autumn West program move into safe, affordable permanent or transitional housing after seven to 12 months.
Volk admits that no one agency—even Community Advocates—can do everything. “We (community based organizations) need to be supportive of each other,” he said. “We compete sometimes, but I look at what makes services better for everyone.”