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Community Services News

Where human needs and government intersect. The Division of Community Services promotes ongoing economic security and independence for the people of Shelby County. We do this by promoting, coordinating and delivering services that address the underlying conditions for well-being and justice. We strive to be a highly organized team and partner, dedicated to promoting a strong community where all people are able to reach their full potential.

Feb 28

Director's Message: Past is Prologue

Posted on February 28, 2020 at 12:19 PM by Janet Lo

Director's Message

Past is Prologue

In William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Antonio famously states “what is past is prologue” to justify choices that he feels fate has brought him to. While I won’t give away the plot for all of you who might have some extra time to read some Shakespeare, I must say that I do agree with the underlying premise that history sets the stage for understanding the present. 

History was always my favorite subject throughout school. There seems to be no other time of year that I am more immersed in reflecting on history than during Black History Month. The roots of Black History Month can be traced to 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. While initially the emphasis was placed on encouraging the teaching of the history of Black Americans in public schools, eventually by 1970 the commemoration evolved into a full month within the United States. The observance of Black History Month now celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history as well as the struggles for freedom and equality throughout history. 

Regardless of your heritage, a better understanding of Black History is important to everyone’s understanding of the full history of this nation and the world. While Black History Month may be designated as such, the truth is that Black History is integral to the fabric of our collective history.  

History is vitally important. Just as science helps us to understand the physical laws that govern our world, history helps us to better understand the people in the world.  It gives us an opportunity to critically reflect on our past mistakes, but also helps to inspire us to do better in the future. It helps us to understand our society and ourselves. It provides us with a sense of identity. It preserves our stories. It inspires us. It gives us warning signs. It can help us to be better people individually and collectively. 

History is not just important in this global way, but it plays a very essential role in how we serve the community. We must dedicate time to exploring the history of economics, politics, and traditions of Shelby County to be best equipped to tackle the issue of poverty. We must also be intentional in listening to the histories and dreams of our clients. The better we understand a person’s story, the more likely we are to identify ways to best support them to success. I am hopeful that we will all leverage this month’s focus on Black History, our collective history, year-round, to inspire us to continue be our best in service. 


Dorcas Young Griffin
Director of the Division of Community Services
Shelby County Government

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Feb 28

Mental Health Challenges in Criminal Justice System

Posted on February 28, 2020 at 12:17 PM by Janet Lo

2020-02-OJI - BHUOffice of Justice Initiatives, Behavioral Health Unit

Mental Health Challenges in the Criminal Justice System: The Need for Shelby County’s Behavioral Health Unit 

According to a Mental Health America 2015 report, 1.2 million people with mental illnesses sit in jail and prison every year. That is more than half of all Americans in jail or prison.  

Let that sink in. Half of all Americans in prison have a mental illness. 

Tennessee unfortunately ranks within the top ten states with the least access to mental health care. Shelby County took action in January 2016 to ensure that defendants in the criminal justice system, that have been identified as having a mental illness, have options for care and treatment that will ultimately reduce their risk of future incarceration.  

Qualifying defendants suffering from mental illness can go on probation, in lieu of incarceration, and have the option to have their charges dropped in exchange for completing a year-long mental health treatment plan determined by Shelby County’s Mental Health Court.

Defendants must plead guilty to stay in the yearlong program, but once they complete it, their arrest records are expunged. The program includes mental and physical health care, help with alcohol and drug abuse, housing assistance and, if they are capable, employment assistance.

The need is great in Shelby County. The court's clients, most commonly charged with theft, have been arrested an average of 136 times, with records that go back 20 to 25 years, mostly based on "nuisance crimes" — shoplifting, public drunkenness, and crimes associated with drug use. The court calls them "frequent fliers," meaning they're in and out of jail 8 to 10 times per year.

Shelby County's mental health court is presided over by Judge Gerald Skahan. Its performance and the critical needs among an estimated 500 people in jail with a diagnosed mental illness persuaded officials to double the court’s current case load to 50 offenders since it began in 2016.  

If you know someone that is currently in jail awaiting trial, on probation, or in prison that has a mental health condition and needs help with seeking treatment or medication, please contact the Behavioral Health Unit team at 901-222-2043. 

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Feb 28

Rising Utility Costs Met with More Assistance

Posted on February 28, 2020 at 12:14 PM by Janet Lo

2020-02 csa utility bill
Community Services Agency

Rising Utility Costs Met with More Assistance 
Winter months show significant increases in household utility usage which results in higher utility bills. These higher utility bills often put a strain on low income residents. Shelby County Community Services Agency (CSA) wants to help residents of Shelby county meet the rising cost of utility bills by paying up to $650 towards your MLGW account. You don’t need to wait until you receive a cut-off notice to benefit from our Utility Assistance Program. For eligibility information, visit www.shelbycountytn.gov/utility or be proactive and get an appointment NOW! We take appointments every Monday morning starting at 8:00 a.m. on our appointment line (901) 222-4299. We also take appointments in person every Monday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Memphis Housing Authority office located at 700 Adams Ave, Memphis, TN 38105. We also accepted mailed in applications. For more information about utility or other types of assistance, visit us online at www.shelbycountycsa.org or call us at (901) 222-4270. 

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