Shortening the Line: A community conversation on helping those in need

community conversation

What would it take to be more effective and efficient in providing innovative, comprehensive and wraparound services to improve the lives of families and communities most in need?

The solutions will come from companies, colleges, nonprofits and faith-based entities, based on a May 21 conversation with more than 100 participants hosted by the Food Bank and the City Department of Human Services Faith-Based Initiative.

Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper said he would like to see “more CEOs of conscience,” who “make sure that the wages that they’re paying their employees is sustainable and meaningful, so that they don’t need the Food Bank.” Cooper added: “If I have a student, if I can shape them in their pursuit of an MBA to have a greater sense of corporate responsibility to the community and their employees, (that) they would never imagine the Food Bank being part of their benefits to their employees, right?” (jump to his remarks in the video)

Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores said his five schools “compete with poverty,” for students. “Our students make the choice between going to school and seeing if they can afford it, and then weigh opportunity costs and determine how many hours less that will mean in work, how much less they’ll contribute to their household budget to assist often times their mom, to see if they can work less hours and offer less support to their parents, and what implications that has for supporting their children.” (jump to his remarks in the video)

The conversation was guided by Ann Helmke, Community Faith-Based Liaison of the Department of Human Services. The central speakers were Brenda Mascorro, Executive Director of South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless; Mike Flores, Chancellor of Alamo Colleges District; Melody Woosley, Human Services Director for the City of San Antonio; Ricardo Ramirez, Director of Analytics, Performance & Strategy for Workforce Solutions Alamo; Eric Cooper, President and CEO of San Antonio Food Bank; and Katherine S. Beaumont, Interim Vice President of College Services for the Alamo Colleges District.

Scroll down to continue reading for an overview of the main questions that guided the conversation and the group’s proposals for steps toward solutions.

Watch the full video of the conversation here:

Question 1: Why is opening this conversation around Shortening the Line so important? (Jump to this place in the video)

SA’s population is projected to double in the next 10 years. Many have limited access to services to meet basic needs in San Antonio already, and the drop in educational enrollment will increase poverty. Some people can’t even find the Line (to receive services) and San Antonio’s vast resources are still not reaching everyone who needs assistance. There are many lines to get into and they are still confusing. We need to begin to find out what we don’t know.

Question 2: What needs to happen in San Antonio as a system and in order to change? (Jump to this place in the video)

We must shape our students to become CEOs of conscience who pay their workers ethically and assure that they don’t have to live on food stamps. Implementing technology across systems and programs will increase access to everyone, and we should stop doing what isn’t effective and efficient. Getting the right people to the table will create a focus on the general public. Glean from what other industries are doing to make a difference. Leverage models and systems that are already in place. Education needs to improve about this issue, and we need to go outside of our own spaces and engage industries in their role to encourage equity, advocacy, and compassion. Finally, we need to have more conversations about this, because nothing will change if the public remains silent about this growing issue.

Question 3: How do we move forward to make this happen? What step would you prioritize as number one? (Jump to this place in the video)

San Antonio must align our faith-based system, educational system, social services, and health systems to ensure the ZIP Codes do not limit the opportunity for success. We have to make poverty unacceptable and learn from each other, and sometimes that means putting your personal priorities on the side burner to pay attention to the needs of the community.

The audience gave various answers to what the first priority should be. The childcare program was brought up to have the largest potential impact; higher-income families are less likely to participate in the program even though they may need it. Other suggestions included solutions from within the workforce, diversion and prevention of homelessness, preventative care for children, and coordinated care.

Priority Steps

At the conclusion of the event, the central speakers and representatives from the audience identified the following Priority Steps to help Shorten the Line as a citywide effort: (Jump to this place in the video)

  • Rally and focus all of our efforts around generational poverty, much like SA did around veterans’ homeless several years ago.
  • Each organization needs to engage those “in the line” and bring them into this conversation.
  • Form intentional partnerships within the next year along with ongoing education.
  • Educate the at-large community about poverty, mental illness and life skills to increase compassionate services for all SA residents.
  • Form, strengthen and intentionally link resources among organizations.
  • Close the gap between the agencies and the families and their needs (poverty). Informing others about the conversation that occurs during these type of sessions.
  • Communities becoming a singular in understanding compassion and poverty, and people in poverty.
  • Conduct an internal and external individual root cause analysis by focusing on data. Using data to drive our decisions with intention and purpose.
  • Tackle poverty through legislation and policy via collaboration with partners in addressing the root causes, what’s driving those, and their outcomes.
  • Change our words and how we speak to folks with mental health; etc situations. Change the conversation.
  • Focus on families and building relationships to educate.
  • Collaborate the accessibility of services and resources (like
  • Create and connect people to safety nets for families (childcare; wages; opportunity)
  • Continue the Conversation.