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Posted on: April 15, 2019

Mayor Rilling: Why We Need a Community Services Department

Norwalk is a fantastic community and I brag about all we have to offer every chance I get. From our stunning parks and beaches and excellent public schools to a vibrant downtown and beautiful neighborhoods, there is something in Norwalk for everyone.

While there is much to be proud of in our great city, there is currently something missing. Consider this: 14 of the 15 largest communities by population in the state have a social or community services division and/or a state office offering these services. The one missing? Norwalk.

Norwalk is the sixth largest city in the state, but has no official department tasked with handling community services. Various city departments jump in when and where they can, but it is not enough. Norwalk used to have a Social Services Department, but it was abandoned at the time because the State of Connecticut was providing similar services. Now, without the state having a presence in Norwalk, residents are navigating a complex maze in search of resources in their time of need.

Local nonprofit agencies in and around Norwalk serve as a tremendous resource for our neighbors. From providing assistance such as clothing, food, and housing, these groups are making a difference. But, as they would likely tell you, they are stretched thin. We cannot expect these groups to continually provide referrals and resources that fall outside of their mission. They do so now because they care about the people and our community. I am hopeful the city can now take on that responsibility more fully.

That is why I have proposed a new Community Services Department in Norwalk. My proposal creates the new positions of Chief of Community Services and Director of Human Services. The Chief of Community Services would oversee the Health, Human Services, Library, and Fair Rent/Human Relations departments. This position has no cost increase associated with it, as it is actually a title change to the currently vacant role of Director of Human Relations & Fair Rent. The Director of Human Services, a newly created position with an estimated salary of $100,000, would oversee the Early Childhood and Youth Services departments. This new Community Services Department groups like-functions to allow the City to properly manage and address the needs and concerns of all residents in a timely and efficient manner.

This new Department would also collaborate with the Fair Housing and Senior Services departments. These agencies would remain independent and not under city purview, but through resource sharing and cooperation, I know we can improve outcomes for residents who are in need. The City will continue to partner with and refer to nonprofits in the greater-Norwalk area that have been providing much-needed services for many years.

Norwalk’s diversity is one of our greatest strengths. We are a melting pot of cultures, languages, backgrounds, and beliefs. We are also diverse when it comes to educational attainment and socioeconomic status. It is incumbent on government to ensure that no resident falls through the cracks of an overworked, underfunded, and complex safety net system.

The most vulnerable and disenfranchised in Norwalk deserve coordinated and compassionate resources and referrals. My proposal accomplishes that goal by assisting with issues affecting our community. Norwalk is a great place, and it should be that way for all people – especially those who need a helping hand.

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