ROCKVILLE – A crowd of community members entered Rockville town hall on Jan. 27 to make a case for funding in human services, sports and art development before the council reviewed priorities for the 2021 fiscal year budget.
Leon Suskin, the co-chair of the Human Services Advisory Commission, spoke on his own behalf at the meeting to call support for a community needs assessment to the council’s attention. Such an assessment, which has not occurred in more than 10 years, would accurately inform the city of what sort of human services are lacking in funding, as well as what services might qualify for grant money.
“Data would allow the City of Rockville to gain a better understanding of priority areas and gaps,” said Stacey Erds, executive director of Stepping Stones Shelter.
Suskin was followed by Laurie Gira, grants manager of Community Reach for Montgomery County, who also spoke on her own behalf. She commended the city for allocating grant money for human and caregiver services in the city but called on the mayor and council to take a step further.
Despite Montgomery County’s reputation as one of the highest-income counties in the nation, approximately 70,000 people live below the poverty line, according to the county’s Community Action Board in a 2018 report.
“The partnership between our local service agencies and the city is not only vital to the efficient provisions of the services but is a physical sound decision on the part of the city to invest in skilled caregiver agencies to provide crucial health and human services needed by the most vulnerable of our city residents,” Gira said.
“It is important to acknowledge that the portion of the community struggling to make ends meet is increasing,” she said.
Erds agreed that the city’s community grant funding is “critical” to the success of her shelter, which moves on average 30 families a year out of homelessness.
New tax policies and the rise of the minimum wage, however, have left shelters with less funding than previous years.
The mayor and city council responded to the community forum—which lasted for more than an hour—with sympathy and pride in their community.
“Even this morning, seeing some of the impact of homelessness in our city, of folks leaving shelters and finding someplace to go, whether that be the post office, library, or Panera Bread,” Councilmember Monique Ashton said. “There was a lot of need. I appreciate your advocacy.”
“I was so heartened to see people advocate on behalf of others,” said Councilmember David Myles, while also echoing Ashton’s feelings on the matter.
Ashton asked the advisory committee to consider a community needs assessment and to offer recommendations on how the city would go about one.
The city also heard on issues from residents on allocating more funding to arts and cultural development and the protection of Redgate Park. Karen Askin, representing the city’s art commission, spoke on the need for an office in the city devoted to the arts.
“Now is the time to imagine what we want our city to look like,” Askin said. “Now is the time as we plan for the future Redgate and King Farm Properties.”
Mayor Bridget Newton appeared emotionally touched.
“We just went through the very transparent process of trying to hear our community on a variety of issues,” Newton said. “We hear you.”