Saturday, June 11, 2011

Access to social service – or lack there of ...The case of Hartford, Connecticut

I am not the betting type, but I would be willing to put stakes that the average person living in an urban area does not know what social services are in a one mile radius, what they are fully entitled to (based on residence, income, familial status...), or how to access their entitlements. However, statistics show that the majority populace of urban cities will take advantage of some social service at least once in their residence. Thus there is a dysfunctional relationship between knowledge and access.

Taking this dichotomy one step further, I did some research. The last time the social services in Hartford Connecticut were formally mapped out was in an article by the Kennedy School about the 1994 moratorium on social services titled Zoning Restrictions on Social Services for the Poor: The Case of Hartford, Connecticut.

Abstract: “This case about the regulation of nonprofit social service organizations focuses on the unusual decision of the Hartford (Connecticut) City Council: to impose a moratorium on the establishment of new social service nonprofit organizations-such as homeless shelters and drug treatment centers-in the center city, where such uses had greatly proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s. The case allows for discussion of urban policy-is it better to serve a city's poor population or take steps meant to limit service "magnets" which might attract the poor? Is it government's job to serve citizens or attempt to upgrade neighborhoods? The case also allows for a broader, nonprofit policy discussion of the limits and dimensions of public regulation of non-governmental organizations, a discussion complicated by the public funds which support organizations such as those in Hartford.”

This case is extremely important to the social work field for several reasons, humor me - I am going to list a few:

1. It was impacted by and continues to impact all 5 branches of social work (casework, group work, admin, community organization, and policy practice) hence why it is taught in macro foundation

2. Hartford is the scapegoat city for all things that go wrong, this is just one of those examples.

3. The very question on knowledge and access are addressed in this case

4. The fundamental question is still yet to be answered: how much positive change has occurred since the closure of the case?

Skipping straight to number 4... I took some time (too much perhaps) to collect directories and data to produce a new map of the social services located IN and AROUND Hartford Connecticut. Many of the fundamental problems from the 90's still exist today, so to answer the question, not enough has changed in my opinion. Many of the social services are either located in the downtown business districts (i.e. not where people live) or further away on the outskirts of the city. Generally not in the same neighborhood where the target population for the social service lives and (most importantly) not on a bus route.

A note on public transportation in Hartford. First of all, the website is only minimally "user friendly". More importantly, good luck getting where you need to go in a full day if you rely on the buses. See, the bus system looks like a bike tire with the center of Hartford in the middle and all of the spokes are different bus routes. However, there is no tire around the outside, more over, one route does not connect to another. So, if you live out of the center of the city, you'll have to take a bus in. Chances are if you have a doctors appointment, have to pick the kids up from school, drop off some dry cleaning, and then make your way home, you're going to be taking quite a few buses. The slogan for CT Transit is "connecting communitites" yet the routes do not connect...irony.

Back to the map. It was created with the intention of being spread to both the academic community and to the local level where individuals and social services could benefit. As you zoom in on the map itself, the location of the organization, name, and type of service provided show up in a box along with publicly accessible contact information. The idea is that with access to knowledge comes greater understanding. And with greater understanding we as social workers, and we as people are able to better help one another. So, as stated back in the first paragraph, most people in an urban city will utilize a social service during their residence. However, many people do not know the full realm of what they are entitled to. Utilizing this map is one step towards helping people see what social services are accessible around them as well as understanding what social services are most frequently (or less for that matter) accessed and why.


  1. Very interesting read, Aviva. This reminds me of this site I came across when I was doing my community assessment:

  2. I want to read the Kennedy School report. But I have to pay for it to read it, right?

  3. My wife has decided to see a Social Worker with a Master Degree instead of a Psychiatrist. She says the difference is that a Psychiatrist looks at the person whereas the Social Worker looks at the person's surroundings. I am just afraid my wife is going to come home and start blaming everything around her for her craziness