A friend of mine, who doesn't drive, recently learned that both his parents needed to undergo serious surgery. Since they live across the county and he cannot stay with them, I asked what arrangements had been made for their care.
Though well intentioned, he's single and clueless. So the plan was for Mom to have surgery first. Then she would care for Dad when he came home a week or two later. The backup person was 84-year-old Grandma, who can still drive.
When I told my friend about Meals-On-Wheels, Caring Companions and other resources to assist his folks, he was stunned--and relieved. But he is not alone in his ignorance of social services.
To make matters worse, unless you know the exact name and location of an organization, using the phone book or dialing 411 is like searching the dictionary for a word you can't spell.
Fortunately, senior citizens and younger residents of Ventura County have access to over 580 social service agencies through HELP-LINE, the county's only 24-hour comprehensive information and referral service.
The toll-free HELP-LINE provides information on a specific topic or a range of services you didn't know existed. Older people might be looking for senior centers, nutrition programs, or widow/widower support groups. But if you need Sexaholics Anonymous or an adoption service, they are available too.
"We serve the entire county, providing up-to-date, comprehensive social services information," said Marty Bolton, director of crisis services for Interface: Children, Family Services, which operates HELP-LINE.
Through its six service sites around the county, Interface sponsors nine different family and social service programs including the Battered Women's Shelter and Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention.
"Most of our programs deal with youth and families in crisis. But HELP-LINE deals with all ages," Bolton said. "We probably get about 40 calls a month from senior citizens. And another 5 to 10% of calls are from people calling about their parents or to help a senior in need."
The 10-year-old HELP-LINE was started with funds from United Way of Ventura County, which continues to be its principal source of support. The program also depends on additional donations of funds, goods and services.
Interface also sponsors the 24-hour Suicide Prevention Line in conjunction with Ventura County Mental Health Services. "Seniors have the highest rate of suicide," Bolton said.
Based on the wide range of programs and number of people served, Bolton said Interface is the largest, most comprehensive nonprofit social service agency in the county. Last year, HELP-LINE alone assisted 55,659 people.
Last year, Interface received 6,000 calls just at its two walk-in sites located in Thousand Oaks and Oxnard. An additional 950 walk-in clients were helped.
People come in for a variety of reasons, according to Rosemarie Lopez, the HELP-LINE information and referral services specialist. People come for translation or help in filling out a form. Some cannot read the small print on documents or they need assistance making phone calls.
As with HELP-LINE services, all help is free and available in English or Spanish. "I will take their number and get back to them, or I'll translate the information myself," Lopez said.
"Many times seniors are not even aware of services available to them," Lopez continued. For example, she refers seniors to the Commission on Human Concerns for help in reducing high utility bills they are unable to pay. If a senior cannot provide the first and last month's rent deposit when moving, Lopez helps to find funding.
"The most common requests come from seniors who need in-home help or they want home-sharing. And a lot of them need someone to do their yard," Lopez said. "In that case I refer them to the senior citizen employment agency in their area."
Lopez's job includes outreach work. Earlier this month she visited a Spanish-speaking senior citizens' group in El Rio to tell them about available services.
Although many social services in the county are aimed at children and families, senior citizens are often eligible for services that others can't have. "For example," Bolton said, "transportation is difficult in this county. Yet there is transportation for seniors, but not for others," referring to subsidized taxi programs.
"There are a lot of wonderful senior services here."
The toll-free HELP-LINE number is 1-800-556-6607. Deaf and hearing impaired people can access HELP-LINE with a telecommunications device by dialing the TDD number, 496-4866. To reach the 24-hour Suicide Prevention Line, call 648-2444.
The Interface office at 80 E. Hillcrest Drive, Suite 103, in Thousand Oaks, provides walk-in service Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 5 to 11:30 p.m. The office at 515 South C St. in Oxnard is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To request a speaker to explain HELP-LINE resources to your community group, call 485-6114.
The Blue Book, a directory of more than 580 social service agencies for Ventura County, is published annually by Interface HELP-LINE. The updated 1992 edition will be available in January for $24.95. The pocket-size Personal Phone Guide is organized alphabetically in English and Spanish by subject headings and costs $4.95. Rolodex cards and mailing labels for social service providers are also available. Order forms can be obtained at the Thousand Oaks Interface office or by calling HELP-LINE.