Advocacy and Referral have been a part of Loaves and Fishes' services for the past thirty-one years. It began informally, with dinner guests asking Site Coordinators for help obtaining housing/shelter, health care services, job referrals or help with transportation (bus tokens), etc. Loaves and Fishes began by using United Way's publications, the Internet or handbooks that listed other agencies' services in the site neighborhoods. Referrals were made everyday in an informal, spontaneous way.
Several years ago Loaves and Fishes staff began collecting and tracking the number of inquiries from our dining sites. This data showed us which sites needed the most help and which services were most requested. In 2010 we hired a Licensed Social Worker to oversee our Advocacy and Referral services in an effort to standardize our offerings in this important area.
Housing, employment, transportation and rent and utility assistance make up the majority of the inquiries for assistance. Thousands of referrals were made last year at seven different sites. Most of the referring now is done through the Internet and web sites. However, handbooks, hard copies and one-on-one interviews are still utilized by our Coordinators and Advocacy and Referral staff. One-on-one interviewing/relationships are the most effective means of influencing these referrals so they'll have an impact. Trust, consistency, reliability, and familiarity are all factors that help promote advocacy and referral that lead to greater self-sufficiency for the guests who come to the dining sites for meals.
We will continue to provide these referrals as long as guests need additional basic services available in the local communities.
As one guest reported in a letter to Loaves and Fishes, "I've had great success at work and have my life back again. My endless thanks goes to the Community Service Advocate with Loaves and Fishes. He saw in me a person who did not want to stay homeless."