Whose job is it to help?

When I decided some 15-16 years ago I wanted to work in the social services sector, I was still a pretty idealistic 20-something year old. Granted my own path had been rocky, after all I was married at 18, a mum by 19 and headed towards divorce court by 20 but in that idealistic way that is a defining trait of the very young, I thought it would be great to help others. Sure, the pay sucked and I actually left the beginnings of a career that most certainly would have been far more lucrative but being someone who does good in the world at a very basic level was very important to me.

My first gig in the helping realm was actually as an Americorp Vista, serving as a community organizer to an area on the far north side of Chicago where noon day shootings across the street from the office were the norm. That agency in many ways was very similar to the agency I now serve as Executive Director, an agency that offered a wide array of services to locals and did a lot of good in the lives of the people it impacted. For the first time in my working life and considering I started working at 14, I had some experiences under my belt, I felt alive in my work. Sure the local gang bangers were none too pleased about the work we were doing and I admit I often sprinted from the office to the el station, as it was not an area for leisurely strolls. My love of being in the helping profession was cemented.

Over the years, I have worked with all types of people though the bulk of my work has been spent dealing with homelessness , but pretty much there is not a population that I haven’t served either through direct service or as an administrator. But I am about to tell you a secret that most in the social service/human services realm know all too well. You get burnt out and this work makes you look at people in a very hard light. For all the great individuals you serve, there are many others that make you wonder why?

Often times people think of social workers and other related allied professionals as being open minded and liberal, after all we serve people in the need. Yet over the years, I have seen more and more colleagues become rather conservative politically, generally settling down and ending up as Republican lites or Libertarians. It’s a secret we don’t share but really it’s the work that changes us.

Recently both online and offline I have ended up in discussions where people outside the profession have shared with me that they feel the government should do more to help people. For some reason I have been stuck on the thought what more should the government do to help people, better yet what is the government’s role in helping its citizens. Look, I am hardly a bootstrapper; I have freely admitted on this blog that in my early adult years, I needed assistance to live. I was thankful for that help at the same time hating it and glad to be done with it. A few years ago, when our income nosedived we needed medical help as mini me needed some health issues addressed. I swallowed my pride and applied for state healthcare, I am thankful that we were able to address both our health issues thanks to that help. I no longer receive it as I no longer qualify and actually have no insurance coverage at present. Since a real policy that actually covers things starts at well over a thousand bucks a month here and past experience with high deductible policies is that they really aren’t worth shit when you are paying out $400 a month yet still have to pay for all your care until you hit that deductible which never happened. So I am praying and gambling when it comes to healthcare and hoping Obamacare gives me some real options I can afford.

There is a place and time for government assistance , but the longer I work in my profession I often wonder what about the role of people to make responsible choices? A few days ago, I ran into a former client, she just had a new baby and we were making small talk about my agency which many locals are starting to realize is in economic distress like many non-profits, these days. Somehow in the course of this casual conversation, my former client mentioned her age and I was blown away, all this time I assumed her to be close to my age and was stunned to learn she was only 28! Our conversation ended and I was struck by the fact that had I made different choices I could have been her, 28 with 4 kids and very little money. The fact that my first marriage was a disaster and a disaster early on is probably the biggest reason I am not my former client. That coupled with the fact that government assistance while helpful was so meager that even as a youngster I realized that working was far more beneficial financially that receiving assistance.

I think for many in social services where our delight at serving others turns is when we see people who could make better choices, not make them because they believe social safety nets either through government or local non-profits will always be there to assist. Yet those of us in my field have seen our resources stretched beyond belief and frankly as an administrator, I find myself making logical choices that years ago I never would have considered possible.

Let me make it clear, I am not saying roll up the assistance. In fact there are certain areas where I feel the government should be involved, like healthcare. I think healthcare needs to be handled by the government or heavily regulated so that access is just that accessible. Right now what one gets varies so drastically by state and while I know Obamacare will make things better, I fear it won’t be enough.

Food and shelter, I think everyone must have access to food, but are SNAP benefits the best for all? In some areas, I could see some type of government ran cafeterias where people can go and eat, shit this might even create a few jobs and feed people. Now I admit shelter is a tricky one, right now we have a plethora of programs through HUD and while it can take years to get assistance most commonly through Section 8 housing programs. I admit the fact that one can live in their Section 8 pad forever is one I have always felt conflicted about. One of the reasons waiting lists are so damn long is often times once a person gets a place they can be there forever. There is a not a bottomless bit of housing so it creates a traffic jam if you will.

Clearly we should always have assistance to help our most vulnerable, those who physically or mentally can’t work and kids, but it’s the folks in between that often leave me scratching my head. Of course the current economic downturn is another issue since full employment is simply not available for many which means we need another tweaking of the system. I mean 26 weeks of unemployment benefits may not be realistic anymore when it can take a good year or more to find a job.

I wish I had the answers, and today’s post is more a vent but at the same time I strongly believe that if we want our government to do more than all who have the ability and are of sane mind and healthy body also need to do something. Responsibility is a two way street and sometimes we all have hard choices to make for the greater good of the whole.

Personal Responsibility revisted

Warning, this is a rant. I am going to try to write this in a manner not to break confidentiality because of my work, but I gotta get this out.

I am the director of a neighborhood community center and after school program that primarily serves low income families, its a good place with a solid reputation. Our primary program provides FREE after-school care, complete with snacks, access to clothes for kids and families that need them and other services. We do this on a serious shoe string budget, oh did I mention the services are free. Now anyone who reads this who is a parent knows that child care costs are no joke.

Now due to some issues we are having, I had to institute my first policy change as director that the kids and parents are aware of, wanna guess what it is? Well several years ago, a staffer realized the kids were walking home in the dark and this center is not in the best part of town and some of these kids are like 5-6 years old, so the staffer decided to walk the kids home. Its been nice but we have reached the point  that we really never should have been doing it and right now we simply don’t have the manpower to do it.

Its been a rough call because I am a mother and the idea of little kids walking alone after dark scares the shit out of me but at the time we close, I gotta pick my own kid up and switch into Mama mode and honestly I don’t want or need the responsibility of walking other folks kids home.

So I asked the parents if they could pick their kids up, mind you the kids get dropped off by the school bus at the center and in my mind asking folks to pick up their kids from a free after-school program doesn’t seem unreasonable. Guess what? Folks is pissed and  bitching, some of the kids may not be able to come and honestly I don’t get it.

Truthfully I am having a real hard time digesting how folks cannot do one simple thing to ensure their kids have access to a fun, safe place to go after-school. This incident has reminded me of how as a society we are abdicating our own responsibilities and we can all see where that has gotten us. It seems that personal responsibility has gone out the window and it reaches across all sectors of society. Now for the most part I consider myself a Black blogger and in the Black blogosphere there are many who talk about the lack of personal responsibility among us as Black folks but remember I live in Maine. These are white folks I am talking about, all the kids in my program who are regulars are White, their parents are White and the town they live in is pretty damn White. Lack of folks taking responsibility for themselves knows no color.

Ok, rant over….hopefully we won’t lose any kids but I am only one person.

Can you take care of yourself?

This is a post for the ladies, specifically for those of us with kids. In my online and even to some degree real life dealings, I know a lot of women who are stay at home Moms. Now I have no problem at all with stay at home Moms, shit I have been there myself and even now I am not a full fledged work out of the home mother since I still do a great deal of work from my home office.

However I keep stumbling across a theme with many stay at home Moms, that frankly scares the shit out of me. Many woman who are at home with their kids who I have run across say they can’t afford to work because whatever they earn would be eaten up by the cost of childcare and after paying childcare, and other related working costs, at best they would break even.

Um…..I have to say something and yeah its gonna be bitchy but I need to speak my truth. If your job skills are such that you can’t earn enough to provide a bare standard of living for you and your kids, well you need to address that skills deficit ASAP. Look, as women we get caught up in the emotions and some times that is not such a good thing.

For many of us as women, we envision a world where girl meets boy, falls in love, marries and has babies all with the expectations that boy will be the breadwinner. Ideally this is a great plan, problem is real life interferes and what happens if boy drops dead? This happened to an acquaintance of mine, our girls are  only days a part and her beloved husband died before their daughter turned 1. Thankfully my girl is an accomplished professional and was able to continue providing a decent standard of living for her and her child. Yes, losing a mate is hard but I can only imagine its a lot harder when the only income you got is those survivor benefits. Grief is hard enough without adding financial strain.

On the equally as serious side, what happens if your man just leaves, maybe after you have the babies and get caught up in the Mama love glow, maybe he decides your new size 14 ass is just not what he wants and then decides to be a bitch and not even be fair with financial support. Or maybe he does pony up his 20% for support but it turns out you can’t live on it….this happens a lot.

Lastly, what if you realize after a while you just hate his guts, maybe he is abusing you emotionally, physically or mentally? Yet with no ability to provide you choose to stay or you leave and you are forced to live a transient lifestyle while you try to rebuild.

Look, none of these are places we want to visit but life happens and as women we need to be prepared. Its one of the reasons that despite marrying a man I felt and still feel will be my life partner until I am a crusty old bitch, I went back to school and have always worked. I was married once to man who was a asshole and had I not been working and earning enough to support me and my son many moons ago, kicking his ass to the curb would have been a lot harder.

Ladies, I am not saying don’t stay home with your babies. Shoot, I stayed home with mini-me full-time the first year of her life and when I did go back to work I was only teaching part time. Yet I believed in staying plugged enough so that I never have to start over with no contacts, leads, etc.

Part of being an excellent Mama and parent is making sure we are looking at basics and basics do include boring shit like food and shelter. It truly breaks my heart to know a woman is stuck with asshole because she has no means. Its just not good.

OK, that service announcement is over, feel free to tell me how you feel.