Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Earthquake Here at Home

The literally earth-shattering crises in Haiti and Chile have begun to strike me as a metaphor for the crisis -- smaller but with devastating effects of its own -- hitting our social service system. I feel this way because every conversation I'm having with agency directors these days sounds the same: They're laying off staff, cutting programs, and trying to feel their way into whatever new types of services their state is now prioritizing. One director wrote us: "We have closed four of our five residential facilities and have laid off 60 people, with more coming; our last program looks like it will go in July, leaving only the homeless work, which we have to fundraise for to break even. No more receptionist or human resource person, and the other support people will be gone soon. The board has cut all retirement contributions, no raises, COA won't be renewed. Not much fun here." Not much fun indeed.

If there is opportunity in this crisis, many agencies are struggling to find it. NPR listeners got an earful yesterday about the very real consequences of cutting child abuse programs, but of course we in the field already know all about them. What about the former clients of closed programs? Are they miraculously improved and back on their feet? And will our staff themselves be soon joining the ranks of the needy? Yes, I know -- we should appreciate that we are not in Haiti or Chile. And indeed we're nothing like those countries, not really. Here in the U.S., we have the infrastructure, though presently under-supported; we have the resources, though presently misappropriated; and most importantly we have the know-how to do much better than we currently are. So I, for one, am living for the day that we bring all of these capacities into some sensible alignment.

Melanie Goodman, Executive Director

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