Guest Blog: Collaborate, Collaborate and Collaborate

By Leonard Golden, Administrative Supervisor
Atlantic County Department of Family and Community Development
In Atlantic City, Atlantic County, NJ, health care, social services, community organizations, government and business partners are working collaboratively to improve health for everyone. With funding and support through New Jersey Health Initiatives’ (NJHI) Communities Moving to Action and Upstream Action Acceleration initiatives, the Care AC coalition and its AC Collaborative work group are active participants in the All In: Data for Community Health (All In) national network, where they exchange data collection and sharing practices and key learnings with peer communities through All In’s affinity groups, resources and the annual All In National Meeting. Leonard Golden, Administrative Supervisor for the Atlantic County Department of Family and Community Development shares his reflection on how Atlantic City is coming together and leveraging relationships at all levels to build a healthier community by addressing the needs of those experiencing homelessness.
In this photo from the 2018 NJHI: Upstream Action Acceleration Kickoff event, partners from the AC Collaborative presented a shared vision for a healthier Atlantic City. L-R: Atlantic County Department of Family and Community Development Administrative Supervisor Leonard Golden, Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties Chief Program Officer Laura Rodgers and AtlantiCare Foundation Executive Director Samantha Kiley.

Our AC Collaborative has been extremely productive and energized, revitalizing our efforts to build a healthy Atlantic City community. Amid the pandemic, AtlantiCare, Jewish Family Service, Atlantic City Rescue Mission, the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management and the County’s Department of Family and Community Development, Volunteers of America and the City of Atlantic City have collaborated to connect Atlantic City residents experiencing homelessness with available social services and qualified healthcare providers. This type of collaborative effort was missing from our community prior to the pandemic. The pandemic pushed us to provide services in new and different ways. As a result, we are now better able to address and meet the needs of our community.

Looking back on the evolution of our work, from a focus on food insecurity to one on homelessness over the past six years and a more recent goal of making better use of local data, it’s clear that collecting and sharing data allowed us to anticipate community trends and identify which services and programs could be in high demand during the pandemic. By addressing gaps in services through shared resources, no one agency had to shoulder the burden or costs alone. And much to our surprise, this effort even encouraged and increased the adoption of Homeless Management Information Software (HMIS), as more of our partners understood that it could also be used as a strategic planning tool.

An example of this effort is the Point-in-Time Count, which provides an estimate of the number of unsheltered persons on the street on any given night. With that community-level data, our partners can engage decision makers in securing resources to meet these vulnerable individuals’ needs for shelter through a Code Blue alert, and when they needed safe places to isolate during the first wave of the pandemic.

Learn more: “What is a Point-in-Time Count?” from the National Alliance to End Homelessness
View the most recent NJ Counts report, which highlights data from 2021, here.
Related: Read Atlantic City’s story, “Safe Places to Isolate,” in Lessons from the First Wave by All In: Data for Community Health network

During the 2021 All In National Meeting (AINM) convened by All In: Data for Community Health, I met talented peers from communities across the nation who offered to support our efforts in Atlantic City. One of those partners is Dr. Amy Hawn Nelson, Director of Training and Technical Assistance at Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy. Since the three-day AINM in November 2021, Amy has introduced me to a Data Specialist in Mecklenburg, Virginia who is also analyzing HMIS data to address homelessness in their town.

If we are all utilizing the same tool to determine vulnerability the same way, and placing those in greatest need at the top of our community’s master list, we can be sure that we are implementing a system of care that supports those most fragile.

Samantha Kiley, Executive Director, AtlantiCare Foundation
Project Director, Care AC and AC Collaborative

One point from AINM that has stayed with me is that relationships are important when developing community programs utilizing data as the driving force. Here in Atlantic City, we share a commitment to working collaboratively to lengthen the table and authentically engage community members because they are our greatest resource. We celebrate the fact that our community’s heartbeat and compassion are stronger than ever and we will continue working to make sure no one is left behind.

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