Montgomery County residents who have typically had to travel to Norristown to obtain social services from county government will soon be able to accomplish many of those tasks closer to home.
The county is preparing to field a corps of so-called "Navicates" ― the word is a portmanteau of "navigator" and "advocate" ― who will be stationed at office locations around the county.
"We're taking the advocates and the navigators [of the county's social services] out of Norristown and into the communities where people live," County Commissioners' Chairman Josh Shapiro said Thursday. Shapiro said the "Navicates" will "revolutionize the way social services are delivered in Montgomery County."
Navicates will be charged with assessing the needs of residents who request assistance from the county and identifying which county services are best suited to provide that help. They will then continue to function as a liaison between the resident and the assortment of county departments that ultimately provide the required services.
Shapiro said the Navicates will do more than facilitate introductions or "pass off" residents to the applicable service providers within the county.
"You'll be able to go to your local office, meet with a Navicate, and explain your problem. That Navicate will then assess your need and contact the 'back office' in Norristown, identify the sources of funding and the programs ... and be their advocate throughout the process," Shapiro said.
There will initially be four "Navicate" positions, plus a supervisor. The positions have been advertised, but interviews are not yet underway.
The training for the position is meant to ensure that the "Navicates" knowledge of the county's services "is not just a mile deep in a particular issue area, as most people now are in our government, but rather a mile wide," Shapiro said.
The office locations for the "Navicates" have not yet been finalized. Shapiro said that once the initial four Navicates are in place, the remainder of 2013 will be used to "shake out" the program and to assess whether additional personnel are required.
The county expects to officially introduce the "Navicates" in February.
"We'll be providing updates throughout the year on how well the program is working, and if or when it will be expanded," Shapiro said.