Friday, April 06, 2007

Taking care of each other

Last week I was having a discussion with some family members about whether the government ought to be in the business of providing welfare-type social services. One argument was that those types of services should be provided by private organizations, like churches.

I don't think that taking care of the less-fortunate among us should be viewed any differently than paying for roads and other conveniences that come along with living in a community. It benefits everyone when we make sure that all of our citizens have their basic needs met, regardless of what they may or may not "deserve". During the discussion we talked about the Sunrise Metro Apartments.

My gardening friend Patrick wrote this based on his personal experiences, and I thought it worth pasting here...

The standard litany I used to hear in community mental health services delivery was this, in order of immediate priority:

1) Provide water and other healthy liquids to drink, and healthy foods to eat, when and where and how people will drink and eat them.

2) Provide permanent housing where people will live -- housing that is safe, affordable, and healthy for the people who live there.

3) Provide community support. This can include places to socialize with peers, places to find medical and psychiatric treatment, places to find information about other services and opportunities. Places to fill in the gaps.

4) Provide the necessary supports to find (and keep) decent work for a living wage. Volunteer and part-time work is of value in itself, can be excellent for training and education -- but full-time paid work needs to be the primary goal, for as many people as can achieve it.

Offer those four primary services in effective ways to people in trouble, and many can go on to live good lives. The costs of emergency services (hospital emerg depts., police, fire, etc.) will drop. Jail and prison populations will be reduced. Alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse will decline.

Sometimes, some services need to be offered in creative ways to people who are in particular difficulties. There are many different approaches to filling in the gaps -- ways of adding necessary rungs on the ladders of support, to use a metaphor.

Despite widespread cynicism about so-called "government handouts" and the so-called "inefficiency of the public sector" (as compared to private enterprise) -- the overwhelming evidence I've seen (in short-term and long-term studies; in observation of many individuals and individual organizations; in my own life) has convinced me this is the cheapest and most reliable path to making a better life. For everyone.

Most people accept the necessity of paying for our roads and sidewalks and bridges and sewers. It bemuses and it saddens me, to think we still have conflicts over keeping our people off our streets; conflicts about removing our people from begging on our sidewalks; conflicts about providing our people with enough hope so they won't jump off our bridges -- and conflicts about helping our people to not throw their own lives into the sewer.

We all individually pay for -- and we all individually suffer from -- the suffering of others. One way or another. Personally, I'd rather pay for solutions to the root causes of problems, instead of band-aid reactions to the symptoms of problems.

All the best,

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