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Pay now or pay later

Most residents in Gwinnett County are unaware of the escalating costs associated with a lack of resources to address our health and human service needs. The expression "pay now or pay later" really illustrates when resources don't address community problems up front, then the building of jails and prisons become a huge drain on our government budget. Taxes will go up to cover these costs, while other less expensive programs must be cut to offset spiraling costs.

For the past 16 years, the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services has been implementing a more proactive solution to curbing health and human service needs by bringing the community together to improve Gwinnett. Many programs were started on a shoestring budget by passionate volunteers wanting to make a difference in their neighborhoods. Together, we have advocated for more federal, state and local resources to be directed to the most needy in our community. Everyone in Gwinnett should be proud of the work that hundreds of providers and volunteers do every day to make this a more livable and safe county.

However, our work is not complete. So many in Gwinnett remain cold, hungry and homeless. Youth are using alcohol and drugs in record numbers. Recent surveys show these problems are everywhere in our community. These are not the folks we usually think of as needy. In Gwinnett, they literally live in your neighborhood, from Sugarloaf to Jimmy Carter. Last year, the Gwinnett Helpline, a free and confidential information and referral service of the Gwinnett Coalition, received a record number of requests for emergency assistance and other health and human needs. While the Gwinnett Helpline was able to help a majority of the callers, more than 1 in 3 did not get help.

In the land of plenty, many of our neighbors are in dire need of life's basic needs. Many more just need a hand up, not a handout. Our young people need their parents and community to be involved in their lives. Wouldn't it be great if instead of building more jails, we could be building more community centers, health clinics, affordable housing, churches, schools and parks?

Contact your local and national representatives and show your support for a proactive community. Your pocketbook will thank you. Your community will thank you, and I thank you!

For more information on the Gwinnett Coalition, call the Gwinnett Helpline at 770-995-3339 and check out our Web site at www.gwinnettcoalition.org.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Ellen Gerstein of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.