Beyond Colocation – Doing More for People Seeking Help

scrabble_letters_185280Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Nonprofit Centers Network (NCN) conference, Building Opportunities, in Vancouver, BC.  NCN is the bi-national organization that has taken the lead in promoting and enhancing the development and operation of shared spaces.  If you want to learn about model one-stop hubs and see cutting edge projects around the continent, this is the group with which to connect.

This is the third NCN meeting at which I have spoken. The panel discussion I developed focused on serving clients, often a missing piece for me at these gatherings which provide exceptional information on financing and building centers and sharing back-office services. The topic:  Beyond Colocation: Enhanced Services for Clients.

The benefits to clients of colocating agencies (setting multiple services in one location) are obvious in the human services arena.  Most people who need help require an array of services provided by more than one organization.  Those using medical services need mental health supports.  Families seeking housing may need financial counseling. The examples are endless. Where services are located next to one another, clients can easily find the many programs they need.

But what happens when the services provided are not enough?  What happens when financial, language or other barriers limit the ability to navigate to services.  Or when the services are not there? What is the role of a one stop center? What do we provide beyond colocation for people seeking help?

We believe our job is to provide someone with whom people can talk and receive help navigating what is often a very difficult system.  Years ago a “wayfinding expert” (we thought we hired a “sign guy”) taught us that no matter how sophisticated your signage, 15% of people will always want to talk directly to someone face to face. If that is true of getting from point A to point B, imagine the need to talk face to face while discussing your mother’s financial distress or your child’s mental illness.

One-stop centers do not come commonly with an information and referral expert, I have learned from NCN events. This is something that needs to be envisioned, planned and funded.  At Together Center, we have full-time referral help.  At our Front Door, we have also added advocates, a Cultural Navigator Program, free public phones, a touchscreen navigation system and much more.

Colocation is key to our ability to leverage the services of 20 agencies. Thinking beyond colocation is how we are doing more for people seeking help.