From the Literacy Council of Carroll County to food stamps, a variety of public and private programs are operating to help the county's poor. But too often, those who need the most know the least about available services.
In an attempt to consolidate resources, Human Services Programs Inc. has installed a computer system, Benefits Outreach and Screening Software, or BOSS, to screen low-income county residents. The system will provide them with a single source for information.
The BOSS database, paid for with a $50,000 grant from United Way of Central Maryland, contains more than three dozen programs -- everything from Carroll Food Sunday to Head Start to the Public Defender's Office -- that offer health, financial, educational, counseling and legal services to low-income people.
BOSS has "the potential for being a real big help," said M. Alexander Jones, director of the county's Department of Social Services. "People have talked for years about having a central location for finding out about eligibility for different programs."
The BOSS coordinator, Gloria G. Bair, identified 158 programs throughout the county, then pared that list down to the 37 programs that are considered most useful to those in need.
The complete selection of services couldn't be included in the database because of limited funds for computer programming, but officials hope to expand the database in the future, said Sylvia Canon, the county's Human Services Programs (HSP) director.
Mrs. Bair has screened some clients through the BOSS system while fine-tuning the program.
One woman screened last month, whose name is being withheld because of confidentiality rules, told Mrs. Bair her husband had threatened to kill her and her children and then to kill himself. Mrs. Bair said she made arrangements to help the woman and her children enter a shelter and, using the BOSS system, provided the woman with a list of 20 programs for which she might be eligible.
Using day care and federal housing subsidies, the woman has been able to move out of the shelter and obtain child care. Mrs. Bair said the woman is also applying for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps and seeking counseling for herself and her children.
Mrs. Bair will conduct the screenings through the BOSS system at the HSP offices at 10 Distillery Drive in Westminster. HSP is counting on other county human service providers to refer clients to the BOSS system.
During each screening, which takes about 20 minutes, clients are questioned about their finances health, employment status, education and family problems.
The answers are entered into the BOSS system, which produces a list of programs that match a client's needs. The printouts given to clients include a description of each program, available services and phone numbers, along with the documentation that is required to apply for services.
George Geise, director of the Youth Service Bureau, said it will be helpful for clients to leave the screening process with something tangible, instead of oral instructions from a social worker to call several programs for assistance.
"I would presume most people would hold on to that information packet," Mr. Geise said.
In addition to screening clients, Mrs. Bair sees her role as encouraging people to take the next step of going to an agency to apply for
help. That may mean helping them fill out forms or providing moral support.
"A lot of these people have been beaten down and told that they're dumb and stupid," Mrs. Bair said. "They may need some encouragement to ask for help."
Originally, Mrs. Bair was to screen clients in the community services building planned for Taneytown. Because of project delays, the program is based in the HSP office in Westminster.
Eventually, Mrs. Bair said, she plans to take BOSS "on the road" to other areas of the county to screen people who lack transportation.
For information about the BOSS program, call Human Services Programs at 857-2999.