Nonprofit shakes up Lyon County human services

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Unable to work and with children to feed, a Silver Springs mother of four was happy to find help at the new local thrift store.

Like many people every year in Lyon County who can't find the money to pay bills or buy food for their children, Terri Walter loaded her car with her children and dog and headed west last week for help, passing Heartbreak Road on her way to the opening day of the new store.

The road sign seems fitting for the more than 1,800 people who sought food, clothing and assistance from the Friends in Service Helping organization last year. Before the new store opened Oct. 14 east of Dayton, those in need drove into Carson City for service.

Lyon County officials have not been as happy, however, to see the new store open. County human services officials are worried that they will have to compete for federal dollars with nonprofit charity organization to serve needy residents.

As a way to ease the county's apparent insecurities, FISH has agreed to refer all people with needs for utility, rent, shelter or other assistance to the county instead of offering the complete menu of its services.

Lyon County people who seek help at FISH say they prefer the nonprofit organization because it is easier than going to the county.

Christine Davis, 35, had been traveling to Carson City for services.

"I know these people," Davis said. "There's a lot of people in Silver Springs and not everyone can get the food. Here you can (get food) all day."

Lyon County, which has seen a 72.5 percent increase in population between 1999 and 2000, is home to 3,513 people who live below the poverty level. During winter months, many elderly and low-income families need clothing, food and assistance to keep their heat turned on and housing paid.

At FISH, people in emergency situations can simply ask for what they need. FISH staff perform a quick check and interview to make sure those seeking help are willing to work toward solutions to their problems. Their names and a few details of their situation are entered into a main computer system and assistance is provided.

To get help through the county, people typically must visit the county Human Services office in Silver Springs in person to fill out an eight-page application that asks for everything from photo identification for all adults in the household to written verification of all monies received within the last 30 days.

Once a county application is completed and returned, the applicant must then wait for a scheduled appointment by a case worker, usually within a week. It is up to the county case worker to determine whether or not that person or family will receive assistance and how much assistance will be provided.

The county is bound by income restrictions as far as how much or even if people in need can be helped.

Within one hour of opening the new FISH location, five walk-in requests for food were filled, said FISH Executive Director Monte Fast.

Two days before the Lyon County FISH site opened, county Human Services director Edrie LaVoie met with Fast to bring forward three concerns. LaVoie told Fast she wanted FISH to take the words "Lyon County" off the store sign. Fast said changing the sign is not an option. It says where they are located, he pointed out.

The county was concerned that FISH would be providing duplicate services in county territory.

Assistant Human Services Director for the county, Tammy Lambeth, said providing food to hungry people by both entities would not be a problem. The main concern would be a duplication of providing utility, rental, shelter and other assistance.

This duplication feeds into the third issue the county has with the new store, which is competition for federal funding to provide those services.

Lyon County receives federal grants that are passed through the state in the form of community block grants, welfare set-aside funds, emergency shelter grants and other sources. This year, the county received a total of $59,495 for these programs and will serve an estimated 2,133 individuals and families.

LaVoie asked FISH specifically not to compete for those monies, but instead to refer all human services requests to the county. Fast agreed to the request.

Once at the county, the person in need will complete the eight-page application and follow the required process. In return, the county will refer people to FISH for on-going food needs and clothing.

"It's like trench warfare," Fast said about his experience with Lyon County. FISH, which has grown since 1979 to become rural Nevada's largest and most complete human services program, gets most of its funding through churches, fund-raising drives and community support. Sales from donated items to its thrift stores also fund its programs.

The organization also receives federal United Way funding for its food programs and runs local canned-food drives.

Fast said FISH will continue community outreach in Lyon County, but will not compete with county funding streams.

"(Funding) is definitely an issue," LaVoie said. "If we fight over the funding, only the people will lose. We need to work together to provide the services."

LaVoie said she and Fast have discussed ways they and their staff can work together and build their relationship.

The story is much different in Carson City where FISH has enjoyed a good working relationship with the city.

At the Carson City site, FISH offers a variety of assistance, including providing bus tickets and gas vouchers, shelter for the homeless, child care, rental and utility assistance and emergency prescriptions.


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