Driving through the Orlando metropolitan area, you can see a plethora of storefronts belonging to social services organizations. Across the nation, resources like these exist to help anyone that might need their care. These pillars of our communities are evidence that in an often unforgiving world, compassionate support exists. The tireless work of these organizations has improved countless lives by providing access to food benefits, low-cost health care, legal support, housing, and more. However, in Florida, there can often be a disconnect between those who need help and those who provide it.
It’s no secret that resource gaps — barriers to accessing resources, like food banks, tax credits, or employment services — exist. These can be informational (not knowing what resources exist) or logistical (with the necessary resources not existing at all).
Evidence suggests that one hurdle preventing people from getting the care they need is simply not knowing where to start. Other obstacles are language and accessibility. Finding services for non-English speakers can be difficult, and helping hands are often inaccessible for those with disabilities. The disorganized information space can lead to conflicting messages about simple things such as hours, location, and whether the organization is the right fit for one’s needs. Asking for help is difficult enough on its own; the process should not be made harder by additional barriers and confusion.
Research indicates that services, digital otherwise, need to meet people where they are in an easy-to-navigate manner. The ability to connect communities to services has implications beyond just individual users. Social workers can be more effective in helping their clients. Fledgling nonprofit organizations also benefit from increased exposure to the public. Additionally, and possibly most importantly, disconnection between recipients and the organizations that serve them makes it difficult to assess the scope of deep-rooted issues. When people suffer in silence, the underlying issues that cause societal ills go unnoticed.
It is imperative that we upgrade existing resource lists that are infrequently updated with a single, sophisticated digital access point of consistent and reliable resource information. The nonprofit world has seen many drastic changes lately, and currently available digital resources connecting community members to these local services have not been able to keep up. Those experiencing hunger or homelessness should not be caught in a wild goose chase for help.
The nonprofit sphere has made excellent progress — but it’s not enough. Community leaders, elected officials and regular folks: Please help. There are a lot of possible solutions to this pressing issue, and community involvement is key.
The public has an important role to play in helping. Contributions of time and/or money to one of the many fabulous organizations doing charitable work in the community are beneficial, but charity is not always a sustainable solution. The public should also use their voices to call on leaders to create permanent solutions to hunger, homelessness, and other issues that create the need for charity in the first place.
Youth involvement is another critical factor. These past two semesters, I’ve been interning at the Florida Community Innovation Foundation (FCI). I’m just a sophomore at the University of Florida, and it’s already been a high point of my college experience to help serve my home state. Involving young people is crucial to having cutting-edge innovation. FCI’s student interns build tools to help their communities and add experience to their portfolios, including the Florida Resource Map, a tool to find community services using our large and growing database.
The FRM is just a tool in the toolbox when it comes to connecting people to resources. 211 and findhelp.org are other great solutions that approach the issue from different angles.
The problem of resource gaps is what’s commonly referred to as a “wicked problem,” and by definition, wicked problems do not have just one cause or just one solution. Our only hope, then, is to keep working and keep innovating. To do this, we must involve everyone and move forward with compassion and determination, together.
Joshua Nemery of Oviedo is a student at the University of Florida and an intern at the Florida Community Innovation Foundation.
The Florida Resource Map can be found at www.floridaresourcemap.org and on the Central Florida Foundation’s www.nonprofit-search.org.
This opinion piece has been published by the Orlando Sentinel on September 13, 2023.