By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town of Stoneham has joined Wakefield and Melrose in the intermunicipal agreement under which all three communities will now share certain services and costs associated with a common Health and Human Services Department. Wakefield and the city of Melrose have shared health department services for a number of years.
The new agreement, which the Wakefield Town Council approved this week, is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
The arrangement reportedly will save each community money while opening up grant opportunities available to larger health districts. The agreement is also expected to promote uniformity of policies and practices throughout the three member communities.
Appearing before the Town Council at Monday’s meeting were Health and Human Services Director Anthony Chui, Social Services Director Jason Stone and Wakefield Board of Health Chair Candace Linehan.
Town Councilors took the opportunity to hear from Stone, who joined the department in September.
Since he came on board, Stone said, he has handled 42 referrals to social services. The largest number of referrals were related to “food insecurity,” Stone said, noting that he spends several days a week at the Wakefield Food Pantry.
The next largest number of referrals was for heating fuel and energy assistance, Stone said, with housing and substance abuse issues also in the mix. He said that the ages of individuals referred for help ranged from 19 to 76.
He cited an example of a local “unhoused” man in his 60’s who was well-known to Wakefield Police and Eliot Social Services. Stone aid that he facilitated a referral to detox, which the man has completed and is now living in a sober house in another community.
He also talked about a woman in her 40s that he is helping with food and affordable housing needs.
There was some discussion of ways that Social Services could reach even more people. Stone said that the Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department has been publicizing fuel assistance programs, while he has met with members of the faith community to spread the word about services available.
Town Council members suggested that schools, hospitals and pharmacies could also be a way to reach those in need of social services.
There was also some discussion of the new “energy fund” that has been set up to assist those in need of heating fuel this winter. Earlier this month, the Town Council approved $400,000 from federal ARPA funds to help those in need of heating fuel assistance this winter.
Town Council members expressed their appreciation for the ongoing work of the Health and Human Services Department.
“This is exactly what we wanted when we put more money into social services,” Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin said.