A Community Needs Assessment is a process that examines the underlying causes and conditions of poverty in a region while locating the resources to meet those needs. In 2019, Crescendo Consulting Group helped a Community Action Agency in Metro New York City complete its Community Needs Assessment and Strategic Plan. The large Community Action Program (CAP) Agency serves a diverse and broad geographic region that simultaneously includes some of the nation’s wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods. To better serve its community, the CAP Agency needed to understand its strengths and needs, while also identifying distinct areas where problems were greatest.
While collaborating with Crescendo Consulting Group, this CAP Agency discovered many key findings about its service area, including:
- Despite generally positive economic changes in recent years, poverty rose in most of the towns and cities the Community Action Agency Served. Poverty increased by 12.1% overall in the county.
- Many families were living below a livable baseline due to the high cost of housing in the county.
- More than 50% of all renters in the CAP Agency service area towns experienced housing cost burden. When renters experience housing cost burden, they have less to spend on other necessities, such as food, clothing, and childcare, and are also more likely to experience evictions and homelessness.
- Children disproportionally experienced poverty in the areas the Community Action Agency served. In some areas, more than one in every five children lived in poverty.
- Poverty disproportionately affected minorities in many of the CAP Agency service areas. In one particular town, 76.5% of Black or African American children lived below the poverty level.
- Lack of education disproportionately affected minorities, furthering the cycle of poverty. Over 20% (20.8%) of residents in the same town did not progress past the 9th grade, three times the county average (6.7%).
- In the academic year 2017-2018, 37% of county school children qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch. This rose from 30.0% in 2010.
These key findings were then incorporated into the Community Needs Assessment, along with recommended strategies to implement to reduce and alleviate the top community needs identified, as devised by Crescendo Consulting Group. The strategies included:
- Service coordination activities for clients with multiple needs
- Services for people experiencing homelessness, including emergency shelters
- Childcare services and early childhood education
- Affordable quality housing
- Parent education to break the generational impact of poverty
- Job readiness and employment training
- After-school recreational activities for teens/pre-teens
- Access to physical and mental health services
Since the completion of the Needs Assessment, the CAP Agency has continued to implement these strategies to better serve its community, and help at-risk populations achieve self-sufficiency. The strategies were detailed enough to locate individuals and needs of the highest order, yet broad enough to pivot priorities when unforeseen events occurred. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Community Action Partnership has been serving meals to over 2,000 people per day and is housing COVID-19 positive individuals experiencing homelessness. The detailed findings of the Community Needs Assessment have allowed the CAP Center to further refine its methods of community assistance and continually identify individuals and families in need.
These are the practical applications of a Community Needs Assessment. A CAP Agency can see the real-time needs of its population and develop strategies to alleviate those needs and help those individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.
From a procedural standpoint, a CAP Agency’s Community Needs Assessment is equally important. The process of examining underlying causes and conditions of poverty, while locating the proper resources to meet those needs is regulatorily required for all CSBG Eligible Entities and is the first phase of the Results Oriented Management Cycle (ROMA). ROMA provides a framework for continuous growth and improvement among local Community Action Agencies, which helps inform CAP Agency Strategic Plans and allows for a tangible way to track Agency efforts and results.
Crescendo Consulting Group has specialized in Community Needs Assessment work for over 20 years and has conducted Assessments for CAP Agencies on the East Coast, the Midwest, and in Texas while completing additional Needs Assessment work in California, Florida, and beyond. Crescendo’s patented Assessment as Action® Improvement Cycle lines up with the ROMA Goals CAP Agencies must define to procure grant funding, and Crescendo’s Mixed Research Methodology compiles first rate data collection and analysis, engaging key stakeholders, and conducting other outreach among hard to reach or underrepresented populations.
For more information on Community Needs Assessments for CAP Agencies, click here.