Joann Conlin and Chuck Proudfoot think they have found a way to connect those in need with the more than 60 agencies and organizations in Rim Country ready and willing to help.
By year’s end, they hope to roll out a new website and phone-in system to help those with potentially serious problems connect to the dozens of charity organizations standing by.
The list of needs seems endless: suicidal elders alone in their homes, homeless children, drug addicts looking for help, hungry families. Those were just some of the needs recognized during a meeting Tuesday at the Payson Senior Center.
The meeting stemmed from a request from the Payson Police Department — with officers often called upon to perform welfare checks. During these calls, officers encounter residents who need help, be that emotional, financial or physical.
On Tuesday, Conlin and Proudfoot met with representatives from the police and fire departments as well as several health and service workers to unveil a website portal designed to connect people in need with organizations offering help. It was the second meeting to discuss ways to offer a sorely needed service.
Work on the new site started after the New Year’s Eve snowstorm stranded motorists in Payson.
“Last January, we were inundated with requests for transportation, housing, food and clothing,” said Conlin.
The group quickly realized there was a need for year-round services.
“We get calls for the homeless ... usually people passing through,” said Det. Jason Hazelo. “We (also) get that call from the needy elderly person who believes they are caring for themselves. The amount of hoarding we see — it is not criminal — it is a concern of health and welfare.”
Hazelo said he finds it difficult to leave a call knowing police or fire will soon return; but he doesn’t know who to call.
Hazelo leans on the 10 nonprofits he has worked with through the years. It surprised him to learn there were many more resources available.
“You keep saying 60, but I have a hard time thinking up 10,” he said.
Hazelo said he wants, “to make sure we don’t abuse the resources,” by calling on the same 10 each time.
Proudfoot, chair of the effort, hopes the portal will solve these ongoing problems. “We’re really struggling with the whole idea of accessing services in Gila County,” he said. “You never know who to talk to when.”
The website portal has nine brightly colored buttons with labels such as crisis, food, maintenance/repair, transportation, veterans, finance and health.
Although many of the people who need help might not have access to a computer, the website will help first responders and others with an up-to-date directory.
To back up the website, the committee will also have a phone number and printed material.
Proudfoot explained how the first version of the website portal would work.
“If you click on food, they have three categories they provide services in. If you click on any one of those three, they pop up,” he said. Information includes services offered, people served and contact information.
Proudfoot hopes that all the agencies and organizations on the website will provide volunteers to man a phone and answer questions.
Proudfoot said he prefers to use a phone to find help.
“For $45 a month we can have a local phone number and we can give those same nine options,” he said. “You dial that extension and you will get someone or at least an answering machine.”
While everyone liked the idea of having everything in one place, it all seemed a bit overwhelming.
“Originally, I was thinking there would be a trained volunteer on the other end of the phone call that would answer, ‘Hi, this is Debbie, I’m navigating for you,’” said Debbie Stephens, the director of marketing and development for the Senior Center. “We have so many resources, we don’t know how to connect.”
She listed all of the problems this tool could solve. In her opinion, the system needs a case manager to act as a guide.
Hazelo agreed he would prefer one phone number connected to such a guide.
Another challenge the group saw — wrangling volunteers with 60 organizations to answer inquiries.
In the end, the committee decided to focus on signing up organizations for the website and finding a case manager to guide first responders to the appropriate resources.