News & Events

Taking It to the Streets: UESF on the Move

The pandemic changed office life for everyone.  

But what does office life have to do with getting out of poverty? 

A lot. At UESF, the pandemic has taught us that the office model of providing assistance was not user-friendly. Every day, our whole staff came to work in our Center City office, and our program participants came to us there too, often taking long journeys on public transportation. 

During the pandemic shutdowns, we learned how to work virtually. But that’s not a permanent solution. 

So UESF is not simply going back to the office model. Instead, we are doing something totally new: going to people where they are. 

When we do that, people get help in ways they never imagined.  

“UESF on the Move” is what we call our new way of doing business. It started when Barbara King of Oak Street Health asked if we could come out to their medical office in West Philadelphia. Our team learned how to put together all the elements of a field office, with materials, computers, and trained staff wearing UESF blue. We reach out to people who are coming for medical appointments to talk with them about their needs and go from there. Since January, we have been steadily serving more people each time, going to more offices around the city. We helped 66 people at our latest event. We got utilities restored, LIHEAP grant applications submitted, and enrollments in CAP and CRP programs.  

Here is one example. Ms. Bradley came in to ask about a property tax rebate. UESF was able to help her with it right away. Then, we talked more about her financial health, and we discovered that she could get help with her electric bill as well.  

It’s like running into a friend who’s an auto mechanic. If you mention a strange noise, your friend can do more than just address the noise. You can talk about the whole car experience and learn what else could be going on. There’s more trust and that leads to more possibility. 

Program Director Keysha Abad explains, “Our goal is to create a one-stop shop: you shouldn’t have to give a name and number and wait to hear back. So, when we meet a person, we are screening for everything…finding out the household income, and if the house has veterans or children in school, and what programs people may already be in, like SNAP or SSI. We help people get their tax rebates. We eliminate the extra step of calling the utility to find out about eligibility for their assistance programs. 

“Ms. Bradley was thankful the event was there within her community, because she could quickly run home to get a document, she needed without making two trips downtown. It was the first time she ever had the tax rebate. She had been missing out on this money for years because she didn’t know how to tap into a service to help her apply. Now she knows that every February she can apply, and she knows she can always turn to us.” 

Our on-the-road events with Oak Street Health and other organizations are just one example of how UESF is strategically partnering with organizations to achieve collective impact on poverty. Our first goal is to show low-income people that we are on their side: we care enough to come out and meet you wherever you happen to be. By doing that, we work towards our larger goal of shared prosperity. Working utilities are good for residents but also good for the utility companies. And people living in safe and secure homes is good for all of us.