[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #1 in August 2005]
By Kristen Cox
David Buchanan and Monica Avery met in 2001 through the Stone Soup Cooperative on the North side in Chicago. David is Head Physician in the Social Medicine Department at Cook County Hospital, and Monica is a community organizer. Both are committed to working for social justice. Monica joined David this summer to help him with the early, research stages of an initiative to build a community resource referral website . A homeless health care advocate originally from Evanston, IL, David envisioned a website that would compile and consolidate existing community resource and referral information – from healthcare clinics and free eyeglass programs, to listings of legal, housing, and childcare services. ” As a physician at a public hospital, I continually see patients who have a range of social needs,” he says, “and providing housing for a homeless person is likely to be more important to keep them healthy than to have that person come see me in the clinic while they are living on the street.” Having access to an online, detailed database of services available to the people living in this city, he believes, will be very useful. Though the site is not designed to replace other forms of resource sharing, it will provide medical practitioners and the general public with access to a quick-to- load, easily searchable, up-to-date, user-friendly web-based information system. The site will be available at libraries, cafes, and public health centers – providing information-seekers with a convenient alternative to flipping through outdated manuals or resource catalogs. Though computers are not readily available to everyone, especially the homeless, David points out that being able to go to one single site for information will greatly reduce the time it takes to sort through various websites that categorize data by specific service, neighborhood, or group of people .
Monica has been organizing focus groups to help inform what resource formats (text, telephone, web, or word of mouth) are most used by service providers and how to better make this information accessible to as many people as possible. Representatives from human and social service agencies, including the Chicago Housing Choice Voucher System, La Casa Norte, Howard Brown Health Center, the Chicago Women’s Health Center, the Chicago Lighthouse, and the Broadway Youth Center, among others, have participated in the development of the site thus far, and Monica hopes to see them become partners in formulating and maintaining the site as development continues. As Monoica puts it, the most important asset to the project is building a sense of community by forming collaborations with local agencies that are willing to share resource information. “At times with a project like this, there is an assumption that the largest part is creating the actual site,” Monica remarks. “That is important, of course, but meeting people and informing them that others are also looking to make resources more available to the community – and that a more consolidated effort of people-power can create formats for easier information dissemination – is an important form of movement-building as well.
The Chicago community resource referral website will be up and running in the Fall of 2005. For more information, or to contribute your resource listings, visit www.socialmed.net .