Network of Washtenaw County social service agencies celebrates 20 years

The Barrier Busters Network, a collaborative initiative administered by the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED), celebrated its 20th anniversary this spring with the release of its 2021 Annual Report

The network is made up of representatives from over 100 social service agencies who work together to more efficiently address basic needs emergencies for Washtenaw County residents. In 2021 alone, it provided over $530,000 for residents in need of emergency housing, food, utilities, health care, and more.

At its core, OCED Human Services Supervisor Moonson Eninsche says Barrier Busters "strives to bust barriers."

"I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it's really what we believe in," he says. "We improve communication and increase collaboration between agencies who are frequently serving the same clientele. The person who goes to the Department of Health and Human Services might also be getting therapy over at Jewish Family Services or Catholic Social Services, for example."

Current member organizations include Avalon Housing, the Corner Health Center, the Delonis Center, the Department of Veteran Affairs, Food Gatherers, Habitat for Humanity Huron Valley, Michigan Medicine's Department of Social Work, Ozone House, United Way, and many more. View the full list here.

Eninsche explains that Barrier Busters brings those agencies together through three points of contact: monthly presentations, a 400-member email forum where representatives can reach out and connect about cases where a resident could benefit from another agency's services, and an Emergency Unmet Needs fund where network members can receive funding quickly on behalf of a resident facing an immediate crisis.

When the COVID-19 crisis first struck Washtenaw County in 2020, Eninsche says Barrier Busters started seeing a much greater volume of funding requests. 

"Suddenly, with these low- to moderate-income households, there was an increase in requests for things like hotel stays for those facing homelessness, and a whole bunch more requests for food assistance services," he says.

The year-end report notes that the fund's number of requests and expenditures in pandemic years was over double what it was in 2019. As the pandemic has continued, the network has turned its focus toward those on the front lines of social service work. 

"It quickly shifted from program coordinators and directors into basically frontline case managers and social workers meeting every month," says Eninsche. 

Barrier Busters was able to meet the increased need by finding funding through local foundations and individual donations, but there are several ways Eninsche thinks the network can continue to help residents.

"We're trying to reach less traditional agencies to be a part of our network," he says. "Local aid groups, school systems, that kind of thing."

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.