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Simitian aims to put county services within reach

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian has a plan to make social services more accessible to North County residents.

This week Simitian proposed creating "satellite offices" for county social services staff at local nonprofits that serve struggling residents -- such as Mountain View's Community Services Agency, which provides food and financial assistance to those in need --complementing the county's own services for the poor.

Simitian has proposed up to six such "satellite offices" in the county's fifth district, which includes Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Cupertino, Saratoga and parts of Sunnyvale and San Jose. County staff would be on site a day or two every week in those locations.

Simitian blames a lack of easy access as the reason that certain social services are under-used.

"California has the nation's lowest participation rate for federally-funded SNAP benefits (formerly "food stamps," known here as CalFresh)," Simitian wrote in an op-ed piece for the Voice this week. "Only half of those eligible for the program are signed up. The hurdle of transportation is one reason why."

"At our offices, we're already seeing clients that receive or qualify for county-administered benefits like CalFresh or CalWorks," said Mila Zelkha of InnVision Shelter Network. "It just makes good sense to put as many services as possible in one place."

Simitian said his proposal would require no vote of approval by the county's board of supervisors.

"If the (county) administration is supportive -- and they are -- this is something that can be done administratively," Simitian said, adding that he is hoping to implement it by September or October.

The county got some experience with such an arrangement at the start of the year, Simitian said, when county social workers needed a place to work while the county's North County social services building was being moved from 100 Moffett Boulevard in Mountain View to 1330 West Middlefield Road in Mountain View.

"In many respects this grew out of when social services staff were camping out at the community services agency in Mountain View they were gracious hosts, as was the Mountain View-Los Altos School District's adult education office." He said county officials realized that there are real benefits of having county staff and nonprofit staff in the same place. "There's a much better chance you'll put together a comprehensive package of services that fits a particular case."

Simitian said the satellite offices would be particularly helpful to residents farther away from the North County social services office in Mountain View. The only other place to access such services is in San Jose.

"If you are a person of modest means from Cupertino or Sunnyvale, getting to that office is going to require two to three bus trips and a few hours," Simitian said.

"We have clients who are juggling work, childcare and limited transportation access," said Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto of West Valley Community Services in Cupertino. "Right now, we have to tell them to go to another office in another city to access county programs. A one-stop shopping approach would help them tremendously."

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