Spurred by fears that county welfare reform plans may not be able to help everyone, a coalition of nonprofit and church leaders in the Ojai Valley is setting up a safety net of its own.
Help of Ojai, a 30-year-old nonprofit social services agency, has joined hands with the Ojai Valley Ministerial Assn. to open a community assistance program office at 212 Fox St., Ojai.
The center, staffed by 10 volunteers and program director Jessica Murray, will act as a clearinghouse of information and services to aid needy residents. It will open Wednesday.
Plans are to offer food, shelter, gasoline, thrift store vouchers, bus tokens, haircuts and even small loans for temporary housing.
Center officials also will assess each individual to determine what services they need most to help them on their way to self-sufficiency.
"We recognized that with welfare reform, we needed to have a more centralized way of responding to the needs that were being presented to us," said the Rev. Peter Whitelock of Ojai Presbyterian Church. "Help [of Ojai] was interested in expanding, so it was just a godsend to us."
The program, expected to operate on a $4,500-a-month budget, is designed to complement county welfare reform efforts.
Murray said that at least 250 Ojai Valley families are being affected by federal welfare reform legislation, which eliminated the nation's Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
The new law imposes strict work and job-training requirements and limits to five years the time welfare recipients can collect cash assistance.
Ventura County's version of welfare reform looks to take a close look at each of the county's 8,200 welfare families and determine what services, training or assistance they need to stop using public assistance.
"I think the basic concept is good, but people don't always fit into the mold," Murray said. "It's not going to help everyone."
The new community assistance program is to be a safety net for welfare clients in the Ojai Valley, but also will offer aid to the homeless and working poor, Murray said.