ATLANTIC CITY — Nearly 25 social services agencies met Wednesday in an attempt to identify shared challenges and formulate solutions to better serve the community at large.
Organized by the Mayor's Office and the Atlantic City Initiatives Project Office, the social services workshop at the All Wars Memorial Building presented the agencies the first opportunity to discuss better ways to tackle systemic issues together.
State, county and city social service agencies participated in the workshop.
"We want them to tell us what social services should look like, not us telling them," said Rosa Farias, deputy director of the Project Office. "Right now, it’s a unique opportunity in Atlantic City to really align services with the providers and what works in Atlantic City."
The workshop mirrored the format used at the citywide town hall meeting held in January at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, where multiple breakout sessions allowed people to address ongoing problems and present unique ways to fix them.
The goal is to break down the individual silos various groups in Atlantic City operate from, which was a central theme of the state's transition report co-authored by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy.
"What we found was that folks weren’t talking to each other, weren’t collaborating, which is a similar theme we're finding in Atlantic City. There’s a lot of silos," Farias said. "We're in the business of breaking down silos."
Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. moved from table to table, speaking with each group as they discussed education, community support, emergency services, health, housing and youth.
"Today is a great step because you’re seeing organizations that normally won’t talk to each other actually sitting there sharing ideas and concepts," said Gilliam. "So I think we’ll see a much more robust understanding of who is doing what in the city and how they can help the community and improve itself from a social service standpoint."
Gilliam and Farias said more social service meetings will be held in the future.
Amanda Leese, regional director for Atlantic City with Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, said the initial workshop was an encouraging start. Leese said she would like to see more data-driven discussions at future meetings, which would help the agencies hone in on areas of need throughout Atlantic City.
"I think moving forward, hopefully we can come up with a more collaborative plan to really start solving these issues as a team instead of operating in silos," she said. "It’s the first time we’ve all been in the same room with a structured agenda and really addressing the shared problems we all face. And I think better solutions come when you pool everybody together and you get input from different viewpoints."
Vinnie Kirkland, case manager for AtlantiCare, said he hopes a social services hub can be created so people in need of help do not have to try to navigate the complex web of assistance scattered throughout the city.
"We’re so spread out, we’re so thin throughout the city, that a lot of people don’t know about the resources that are available," said Kirkland. "We need to have a one-stop shop for care."
Mike Epps, executive director of the Atlantic City Initiatives Project Office, said the goal is to share resources among the various agencies to "aggressively attack" the problems in the city.
"It’s important to have the different agencies who have a common purpose to come together and collaborate to work smarter not harder," he said. "Not everybody can do everything at the same time. We have to do a bunch of things well."
Following Wednesday's meeting, the Project Office will put together a directory of available social services in the city. The office will also attempt to identify who is best suited to address what issues and ways to improve service.
"We have every intention of continuing this type of programming," said Farias. "These are the people who are doing the work. They are the ones at ground zero helping the Atlantic City community."