WaterNow supported CHN Housing Partners (CHN) and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) with implementing the Water Champions program, a two-year pilot program that utilizes grassroots outreach to serve at-risk communities, administered by CHN, NEOSRD, and the Cleveland Water Department. The Water Champions program aims to both increase the number of residents who take advantage of water and sewer affordability programs and to help the utilities better understand the needs and concerns of the neighborhoods within their service areas.
Starting in 2018, Cleveland joined the US Water Alliance’s Water Equity Taskforce, a network of seven cities that worked together to develop more equitable water policies and practices and to better understand the challenges, opportunities, and solutions to advance equitable water management. As part of the Water Equity Taskforce, Cleveland created a local Learning Team composed of utility managers, community representatives, and local foundations working to ensure that all residents have access to thriving local economies, community vitality, and healthy ecosystems through equitable water management. The Cleveland Learning Team developed the report, An Equitable WaterFuture: Cleveland, detailing recommended activities focused on “public engagement, affordability, climate resilience, and workforce development,” including the Water Champions program, a grassroots program to connect at-risk populations to water and sewer bill assistance.
WaterNow and CHN partnered to implement the Water Champions program, working together to understand best practices from CHN’s existing programs and other grassroots engagement initiatives; develop data collection recommendations; identify neighborhoods that would particularly benefit from the program’s engagement; develop outreach and reporting materials; and host a community focus group.
Through this program, Water Champions conduct grassroots engagement to better understand communities’ perspectives and priorities around water and sewer issues, and to help connect residents with affordability programs. While the program is still underway, in less than a year:
- The Water Champions program hosted over 100 listening sessions with local residents.
- Over 362 community members met with a Water Champion to discuss affordability programs, or to get help applying for them.
- Approximately 1,000 residents were exposed to the Water Champions program through public outreach.
The program has also begun to leverage the project’s findings to expand its outreach to additional neighborhoods. In light of NEOSRD’s recent expansions of the eligibility criteria for its affordability programs, the Champions’ outreach will help even more residents become aware of and sign up for affordability programs.