Meet Demetria Nelson, Greenwich’s Commissioner for the Dept of Human Services

This summer Demetria Nelson took over the reins at the Greenwich’s Dept of Human Services from Alan Barry in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Barry, who had been set to retire back in May, after 10 years leading the department, stayed on a few months to ease the transition. Ms Nelson started on Aug 24.

Prior to the pandemic, Mr. Barry had expressed concern about stagnant hourly wages and the increase in the number of people in Greenwich struggling to make ends meet despite low unemployment and overall optimism about the economy.

“Over the last 40 years, corporate profits have risen dramatically, but real hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, have remained flat for workers without a college education,” Barry wrote in an op ed in November 2018.

With the onset of the pandemic, and demand for the department’s services increasing, Ms Nelson’s job took on added significance, but she was more than prepared.

Ms Nelson, who is originally from Port Chester and lives in Norwalk, was no stranger to Greenwich. Early in her career she worked as a part time case worker for Greenwich’s then “Dept of Social Services” from 2004-2006. The department underwent a name change in 2017 to imply more inclusivity and better reflect the work the department does for clients in the community.

Nelson, who holds a LCSW, has two decades of experience. Prior to taking over Greenwich’s Dept of Human Services, she worked for 13 years at BronxCare Health System at Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center in Bronx, NY, most recently as the administrative director of addiction treatment services.

“There were five distinct levels of care, including inpatient detox, inpatient rehab, outpatient addiction treatment and an opioid treatment program, which most people know of as a methadone maintenance program – and a half-way house,” she explained.

Prior to that position at BronxCare Health, she was a clinical supervisor in one of the in patient detox units, and then clinical supervisor in the outpatient unit, which ran two community residences.

Nelson did her undergrad degree, a BA, at Boston University, where she majored in Psychology, and has fond memories of that city. She later attended Teachers College at Columbia University, where she completed a MA in Organizational Psychology.

Earlier in her career she worked for a time in training and development at Stamford Hospital. She said in that role she organized a stress management class for employees, who were recommended by their supervisors.

“I realized the underlying issues were related to psycho-social issues in their lives,” she said, adding that was an impetus to her transition back to mental health and behavioral health.

Nelson said the terrorist attack on 9/11 also impacted her thoughts about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. The idea of improving people’s well being and wellness was compelling.

She would go on to attend Columbia University’s School of Social Work for a Master of Science in Social Work.

Fast forward to August 2020.

“I’ve been grateful and thankful for everyone and how they’ve embraced me and their willingness to share information as I become acclimated to the position and the department,” she said.

While Town Hall was officially closed to the public, Ms Nelson worked in the building the entire time, and Mr. Barry was able to introduce her, via Zoom, to community partners including the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club, CCI and Family Centers.

While demand for the department’s services has continued to grow, most Greenwich residents will never need help.

There are occasional requests to the community to help fund the community gifts program for campserships, and the angel tree, for example, but many Greenwichites may be unaware of the array of services the department offers.

Nelson explained the Dept of Human Services has case a management unit that provides services for individuals with multiple issues or problems.

“The staff support and promote education and employment goals as a strategy for long term successful outcomes,” she said, adding, “We also have a programs unit that does initial intake for all clients.”

There are also programs related to energy assistance, renters rebates, and Operation Fuel.

The department helps people who need to apply for Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits, and HUSKY Health, which includes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The department also runs the BANC after school program, and the summer Greenwich Youth Conservation Program.

During the holidays they organize food vouchers and food baskets, as well as a toy distribution, in addition to the angel tree.

The department also offers home care and transportation services.

“Home care aids provide in-home assistance to our vulnerable clients who need help with cleaning and other needs,” Ms Nelson explained.

While in a typical year the department organizes backpack & school supplies giveaways, as well as a boots & shoes program, both of which are conducted in person for children 5-14, this year that was impossible due to Covid-19 and Town Hall being closed to the public.

“There’s been a lot of adapting,” Nelson said, explaining that this fall the department instead distributed vouchers and Target gift cards.

The department has coordinated with Neighbor to Neighbor, making referrals for food supplies. Currently, rather than have clients go to the food pantry to select groceries, TAG is making deliveries.

With no end of the pandemic in sight, Nelson said, “We’re seeing an increase in requests for rental assistance, and we are anticipating that after the moratorium on evictions has ended, tentatively on Jan 1st, we’ll see an even greater request,” she said.

What’s on the plate this week? Nelson said the department is looking at new ways to implement the holiday aid program.

Town Hall just reopened to the public on Tuesday, Oct 13, so it is uncertain whether the distribution can be held safely at town Hall as in past years.

Stay tuned.

See also:

Greenwich Social Services Director: Moving from Safety Net to Self-Sufficiency By Alan Barry, Ph.D. Nov 19, 2018

November 10, 2019

Alan Barry: Income Inequality in Greenwich? You must be Kidding! By Alan Barry, Ph.D. Nov 19, 2018