In 2008, the national economy went into a freefall that some have still not fully recovered from. The Boston Jewish community was forced to reckon with the previously hidden issue of Jewish poverty, and CJP responded by providing a record level of financial assistance to our social service agency partners.
As the crisis abated, the cold, hard fact of Jewish poverty remained. As an organization charged with mobilizing the people and resources to meet our community’s most pressing needs, CJP needed to create an infrastructure that better supported people on their journey from crisis to long-term financial security.
Over the past three years, CJP and our partners have built a coordinated service model to address poverty. Our community-wide approach was recently recognized by the Weinberg Foundation, which invited Sarah Abramson, CJP’s Senior Vice President of Strategy and Impact, to present a case study at its first National Convening on Jewish Poverty in March. Joined by CJP's President and CEO, Rabbi Marc Baker, and by leaders from our partner agencies, Sarah presented the findings thus far. The following is a summary of more than three years of work, measurement, and innovation.
UNDERSTANDING THE OBSTACLES
Our community is fortunate to have five robust Jewish agencies that all play a role in supporting people who struggle with poverty in Greater Boston. CJP worked closely with these social service partners on this project:
- Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston (JBBBS)
- Jewish Family & Children's Service (JF&CS)
- Jewish Family Service of Metrowest (JFS)
- Jewish Vocational Service (JVS)
- Yad Chessed (YC)
Together, we created a logic model — a mutually agreed upon set of problems we wanted to address, guiding questions and hypotheses, planned activities, and intended impact and outcomes.
We agreed on three primary goals for our work together:
- Increase access and lower barriers to critical services for members of the Greater Boston Jewish community who struggle financially.
- Ensure a robust and coordinated community response, predicated on interagency case management.
- Build measurable pathways to long-term economic stability for our clients.
Perhaps the first lesson learned during the development of the Anti-Poverty Initiative (API) is that we lacked necessary data to comprehensively tackle Jewish poverty in Boston. We knew how many clients each agency was individually serving, but not the number of clients receiving help from multiple agencies. Gathering and interpreting this data would take time, resources, and coordination between all the organizations. Ensuring client consent and confidentiality was a top priority.
We agreed that we needed to prioritize funding for measurement and evaluation. By understanding and honoring the experience of our clients, we could better design programmatic responses that would lead to more lasting solutions.
Importantly, we secured an anchor gift of approximately $1 million for the project, with $300,000 per year allocated exclusively for measurement. Using this critical gift, we hired an independent demographer to ensure that client information was not duplicated if records existed at more than one agency.
With a system for gathering data in place, we began to see where some of the pain points were for clients. For too many people, it was difficult to access services across multiple agencies. Whether challenged by geographic access, or the daunting prospect of filling out multiple applications during a time when they were already stressed, many people were not using all the resources for which they qualified.
In an attempt to alleviate this problem, we created a centralized intake across our social service agencies in the form of a 1-800 number we call “The CJP Warmline.” The idea was that a person in need could simply call one number, go through a streamlined intake process, and then be assigned to a caseworker who would coordinate the necessary services.
After The CJP Warmline launched, we reconvened our partners for their feedback and continued to refine the system. Today, no matter whether the first call for help comes in via the Warmline or to the front desk at an agency, clients experience a similar intake process and have access to seamless, coordinated care. This “no wrong door” approach requires social workers at each agency to become experts in services, opportunities, and eligibility requirements at the other agencies, and also helps to ensure that clients receive the maximum benefit, regardless of where their journey begins.
LEARNING AND EVOLVING
Within six months of launching the API, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of clients being served by more than one agency. We also continue to learn from the data we’re gathering and analyzing.
The API has supported more than 2,900 households within three years, or nearly 5,321 unique clients. Because our data collection revealed clusters of Jewish poverty in the suburbs, we have been able to direct our support to those geographic areas. We also now know that our clients range in age dramatically, from children to people more than 100 years old. Perhaps most shockingly, we found that more than 50% of current clients live at less than 100% of the federal poverty level, with the median household income just more than $14,000.
We learned that nearly 90% of families and individuals who enter our system in acute crisis show positive improvement toward stability within nine months. We also learned that our employment assistance is very effective at getting people into new jobs; 68% of clients who receive employment support are placed within six months. However, when clients also receive counseling on public benefits and financial coaching, they achieve greater financial stability.
We have also identified some of the leading causes of financial distress. Perhaps surprisingly, lack of education does not appear to be a root problem in our Jewish community; we learned that more than 70% of currently served clients have a college degree or higher. However, fixed incomes, mental health, and medical issues, as well as job instability, are all contributing factors. With this knowledge, we are working to align our programming to address these issues.
Our experience has shown the invaluable benefit of investing in research and measurement, and of collaborating in new ways with our partner agencies who have such a depth of expertise on these interrelated issues. Together, we are continuing to evolve, to question, and to innovate in order to better serve our community. You can learn more by reading the full version of the white paper No Wrong Door: One Jewish federation’s approach to addressing poverty in our community that was presented at the Weinberg Convention on Jewish Poverty.