By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The area's largest provider of social services is reaching out to the people of Liberty County, where the poverty rate is on the increase.
District IV Human Resources Development Council is sending a representative to Liberty County Hospital and Nursing Home in Chester for two hours on the second Thursday of each month to answer questions about HRDC programs. The first visit will be Nov. 13.
"If we can show that these services are available and people will use them, it will just really help our community," said Tracey Hansen, the hospital's marketing manager. "Once we get people to start meeting with (HRDC representatives), I think the ball will start rolling."
Walter Busch, administrator of the Chester hospital, said the effort to promote HRDC's programs has grown since his initial meeting with HRDC executive director Vic Miller and Liberty County Commissioner Don Marble.
"There have been a lot of people involved in making this happen," he said.
Busch said that with the poverty level in Liberty County - he said the state lists 40 percent of the county's people with incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty line, commonly called the working poor - it seems like more people should be using HRDC programs. Liberty County has 2,158 people.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of families with low incomes in the county grew from 1989 to 1999. In the 1990 census, the bureau reported 100 families in the county had incomes below $15,000. The number grew to 180 families by the 2000 census.
The goal of setting up the outreach was to see if more people can be helped by programs like those that pay for child care so people can work, or that insulate homes, Busch said.
HRDC, incorporated in 1965, already offers programs in Liberty County, along with Hill and Blaine counties and the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations. Miller said that after talking with the Liberty County commissioners, Busch and others in the community, he decided the outreach would be a good idea.
"We're going to just see how the community perceives the need for us," Miller said.
HRDC administers programs and funds in a variety of areas, including child care, job training, energy assistance and domestic abuse. The Liberty County commissioners have been very supportive of increasing awareness of its programs, Miller said.
"They too are looking at poverty issues in a really big way," he added.
Commissioner Russ Tempel said he thinks a number of HRDC's programs could be better used in the county.
"We're trying to quantify what could be used, test the need, so to speak," Tempel said. "Vic's trying to make his presence known."
Hansen said HRDC has a lot of programs that local people could take advantage of.
"There's really something for everybody," she said.
She added that a representative of the Job Service of Montana from Shelby also is attending the monthly outreach sessions.
Many HRDC programs already are used by Liberty County residents, Miller said. For example, HRDC administers a satellite Head Start program in nearby Inverness. The outreach program will tell people about programs like Head Start, he said.
"There's always room for more," Miller added.
Miller said statistics show more agricultural people are becoming eligible for HRDC programs, probably due to the drought and low ag prices.
Hansen said the meetings at the hospital should spread the news throughout the county. As employees of the hospital learn more about programs available, they will probably tell others from outside of the hospital, and more people could start coming to the outreach sessions, she said.
An organizational meeting was held Oct. 9 for hospital staff and administrators to learn more about HRDC programs, Hansen said. The hospital will schedule appointments for people with HRDC and Job Service representatives at future outreach sessions.
To schedule an appointment, call Hansen at (406) 759-5181 ext 22.
On the Net: District IV HRDC: http://hrdc4.havre.mt.us