New social services help center opens

By: 
Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Here to help

Beaverhead Resource Assistance Center Resource Specialist Jewel Johnson is now available part time to help county residents connect to services they need. The center is open noon to 3:15 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and is located at 205 E. Center St. in Dillon. For more information call 406-988-0360 or email beaverheadrac@gmail.com. Casey S. Elliott photo

County residents needing assistance signing up – or keeping – social services have a local option to do so.

The new Beaverhead Resource Assistance Center opened its doors Sept. 4 at 205 E. Center St., in the same building as the Beaverhead County Treasurer’s Office. The parttime center will assist county residents with setting up or keeping social services, such as food stamps or Medicaid.

The Beaverhead County Mental Health Local Advisory Council (LAC) created the center after residents were left without a lot of options for help when the state’s Office of Public Assistance (OPA) and Department of Job and Family Services, the Western Montana Mental Health office and Southwest Chemical Dependency offices all closed within a sixmonth period.

The abrupt closures left many who were accessing services through those agencies unsure how to continue to receive the help they need.

“(The closures) left Beaverhead County residents being told that to access many of these services, they will have to go to Butte or use the online options,” LAC Chair Lynn Weltzien said. “Because the online program is suboptimal, many people were getting frustrated with that and giving up, and their services were being terminated.”

The LAC conducted a survey of county residents earlier this year and discovered the thing they most missed was having a place to go locally to help them find what they need. That survey led the LAC to create this center.

The Resource Assistance Center is not designed to replace the lost agencies. Its purpose is to connect residents with the help they need, Weltzien said.

“So many residents don’t have the computer skills to do the online connection, or don’t have gas money to drive to Butte. Or they don’t own a car,” Weltzien said. “Or maybe part of the group of services they need are in Butte, but their driver’s license has been taken away. That’s why it’s so important to have something here.”

LAC representatives spent the past few months getting the center ready for use and training Resource Specialist Jewel Johnson. The office space and utilities costs are donated by the Beaverhead County Commissioners through June 2019; a Work Opportunity Youth Program through Action Inc. pays Johnson’s salary; and a Headwaters Health Foundation grant pays for the telephone and internet service. The United Way of Beaverhead County also assisted with some of the startup expenses, Weltzien said.

Many people do not realize they can receive mental health services in Dillon or food assistance from the local food bank instead of getting it at offices in Butte, Weltzien said. Johnson’s job is to help them figure that out. There are three computer workstations at the center for people to use, as well.

Johnson, a Lewistown native, is a sophomore studying psychology at the University of Montana Western. She learned about the position through UMW Student Counselor Heidi Gjefle.

Johnson said she found the amount of information out there “overwhelming” as she was training.

“I myself have been using social programs, SNAP and whatnot, for a long time,” she said. “I know how frustrating the whole process can be.”

Johnson said she remembered getting a letter about the OPA office closing. The closure did not affect her, since she knew how to navigate the online system, but she could understand how big of an impact it had in the community.

“I kind of thought it was ridiculous, and the community is losing a lot,” she said. “It’s hard enough to get people to apply for these programs in the first place because of the stigma, and now they were taking away the only local office they had.”

The Resource Assistance Center is open from noon to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. An open house is planned for October. For more information, call the center at 406-988-0360 or email beaverheadrac@gmail.com.

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