We are fortunate to live in one of the wealthiest counties in New York State. The list of dedicated public servants is endless. Voluntary public service is substantial in many of our small towns and villages on both shores. But we still lack vision and creativity.
Every week there is a troubling story about graft, corruption and greed that not only blemishes the people in power but distracts us from the more compelling issues of the present moment.
The new leader for our county is trying to convince us that he and his team are going to cut the fat from our budget. I believe they are well intentioned, but we need more than a reduction in spending plan to save Suffolk County.
His predecessor inherited a mess and he tried for twelve years to make things work without totally ignoring the genuine human concerns of his constituency. He made strides in some areas and in other areas just sustained the status quo.
Our present County Executive is calling for a revolution, which is not necessarily bad, but where is his plan? How will all these cuts that are public, and those that are being mandated quietly by way of memos affect the quality of life in Suffolk County?
What about the poor and the needy? What about young people who are in trouble? What about mental health, probation and emergency services? They were surviving on a wing and a prayer before he was elected. Now they are in danger of plummeting to their deaths.
The people involved are the voiceless. Many have no fixed address. They struggle to survive. They want to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. They resent welfare as much as many of us resent them receiving it.
However, we have a system of human services that sets people up for failure. Homeless families are escalating. It was bad last year. We are told it is going to be much worse next winter.
Our approach to people in crisis seems to be a band-aid approach. It is going to stop the bleeding at a very high price, but no real healing ever takes place. More often than not the bleeding reoccurs, only further adding to the cost. There is no plan or vision. Our tax dollars are continuing to be wasted.
The plight of teenagers over sixteen is growing at an alarming rate. The resources for this population, at best, are poor. The few resources that do exist are already overburdened.
Right now if a teenage young man over sixteen is homeless, where does he go? On an emergency basis, he is usually networked into our shelter system, which is clearly not appropriate for a teenage boy.
What about long term care? Governmentally, nothing exists for the long term. There are a few resources that are privately funded, but on any given day they have a waiting list of at least twenty teenagers, not to mention a waiting time of close to six months.
So what happens? Many of these young people attempt to tap friends or families. Some try to manage on their own. A growing number are living in the woods, abandoned buildings and/or cars. These numbers each year are not a handful. It is rising exponentially.
Who are they? Contrary to public opinion, most are not wild, out of control reckless teenagers who don't want to live by rules. Rather a growing number are from cosmetically middle class families where violence, drugs and dysfunction run rampant.
When these shell shocked teenagers come forward, many are too filled with shame to tell the truth of what they have endured and because of their age they are referred to emergency housing, which in most jurisdictions is a cesspool for human existence.
Many of our emergency room and board possibilities for teenagers on the North Shore are owned and operated by absentee landlords. They are making millions of dollars on you the taxpayers and the consumer gets less than nothing.
One would expect at least a bed with clean sheets, a door on one's room with a lock and a bathroom where the plumbing works. More often than not, there are no sheets, the mattress smells of urine, the bathroom is dysfunctional and there are no doors on the rooms, never mind locks.
These teenagers are subject to inhumane living conditions and their safety is in jeopardy. There are constant complaints of drug use and fights.
One boy was barely sixteen. There was literally no place for him. He was forced into an emergency room and board set up that was a nightmare. In the middle of the night, the little he had was stolen, including his sneakers. It was wintertime. He went back to social services the next morning to complain. They told him that there was nothing they could do. He asked about the replacement of his shoes. He was allegedly told that they were not a thrift shop. This is one of a growing number of heart wrenching stories that exploit our young in crisis. It is another example of a social service system that is grossly inept.
You cannot take blood from a stone. The social services workers cannot give what they do not have. They cannot create wholesome emergency housing possibilities that do not exist. They cannot add competent staff when the administrator is being told to cut back and not replace retiring staff in a system that is already overburdened and understaffed.
JK just turned seventeen in jail. At age sixteen he was homeless. He could no longer live with his middle class mother and stepfather, who were snorting coke. He tried the system, but after three days in a room and board situation that the county paid for, he had had it. His clothes were stolen and he was threatened with a knife. He wanted to finish high school, but got the run around. So he dropped out, tried to find work, but with no fixed address, it was hard. He got arrested for breaking into an old abandoned house to sleep because it was cold. He had no fixed address and no attorney, so he went back to Riverhead jail until he had a legal aid attorney to represent him.
He and a growing number of teenagers are falling into the cracks and ultimately between social services and criminal justice are costing you the taxpayer more.
We lack a vision and a plan. Maybe that should come first before we further shackle a system of human services that is already dying a slow and merciless death.