During the last few months we have heard countless stories of budget problems relative to our state and county government. Both state and county officials indicate that there will be further cuts in social and human services. The thought of any more cuts within those two entities is frightening. Each department is already overburdened and understaffed. As civil servants are encouraged to retire to ease the fiscal stress, their positions are not being replaced.
Thus, programs and departments, which are already poorly staffed, are being pushed even closer to human disaster. The people we are speaking about are the poor, the homeless, the disabled and the mentally ill. They are clearly the voiceless among us who rarely have a fixed address and too often don't vote. They are too preoccupied with survival, with staying alive.
As a community, we should not delude ourselves. Things are not getting better. They are getting worse. As human services are reduced and human need increases, the crisis becomes even greater.
A growing number of troubled adolescents are being mandated to counseling to break their pattern of sociopathic behavior. However, where does a single Mom on a fixed income with three children go for mental health services? There is a clinic, but the waiting list is endless. Your child could be dead before that evaluation is gotten.
You could try to access the dwindling mental health programs available on a sliding scale. Most start at twenty-five dollars an hour. Most middle class people could not afford that cost weekly, never mind if they are poor. Thus, because they cannot afford it, a growing number of young people are not receiving treatment for some very serious mental health issues.
Mental health untreated potentially becomes very dangerous, especially when it has to do with teenagers. Violence and acting out tends to escalate.
Our county jail is way beyond its' capacity. Conditions are inhumane although the new administration is trying to transform the despicable environment with little or no cooperation from county legislature.
Juvenile criminals are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their numbers are increasing in epidemic proportions. Services to address their concerns are almost totally buried in the rubble of governmental bureaucracy. There is literally nothing available for teenagers in trouble in the criminal justice system.
For the non-violent teenage criminal, probation is a possibility. However, there are not enough probation officers available to properly supervise those on probation. Too many teenage criminals laugh at probation and believe it is a joke.
What alternatives do we have for the teenage drug addict and non-violent teenage criminal? We have Drug Court, the Day Report Center and Community Service. All excellent alternatives that on a good day are not properly staffed and are presently in danger of losing their funding.
The President of the United States would like the Religious Community to do more to shoulder the burden of human and social services. If the Religious Community is willing, the President would like more funding to be made available to religious groups.
Giving more money to religious groups is not going to solve our social problems. I was appointed by our former Congressman to participate in the first "Faith Based Initiative" held in Washington, D.C. shortly after Mr. Bush was elected.
From my perspective, it was a disaster. Giving more to well-intentioned religious groups that are narrow minded in their thinking and not comprehensively training their personnel to do whatever, borders on reckless and irresponsible.
We need a more vibrant partnership with greater collaboration from the competent religious community. Funds need to be better managed and programs need to be designed for the long term not just the short-term band-aid approach.
In our county, we need that partnership and collaboration around homelessness, welfare, drug abuse and teenage recklessness.
TJ just turned eighteen. He has been in the juvenile justice system since he was fifteen. He was born into a very dysfunctional family. He never knew his father, and his mother, a chronic drug user, married several times while TJ was a little boy. When TJ was a young adolescent, his mother married an abusive crack addict. He would physically abuse TJ's mother in front of her children. When he was high, he would beat up on TJ. TJ would complain, but his complaints fell on deaf ears.
By the time TJ was thirteen, his stepfather was emotionally abusing him and beating him with his hands and other objects. When this young man would threaten to call the police, his stepfather would say, "Go for it. I'll get your mother to lie and they will lock you up."
One afternoon, this arrogant, abusive man pushed his fourteen-year-old stepson too far. He finished beating him with a belt for being five minutes late. TJ picked up a broomstick, struck back and hit him in the face. He broke his stepfather's nose and split his lip. TJ ran. His stepfather called the police and had him arrested. He exaggerated the allegations and frightened TJ's mother into affirming his statement.
A few hours later TJ was arrested. He was still shaking from the whole ordeal. He made the mistake of telling the truth. TJ further admitted that he would kill this man for all that he had done to him and his mother.
TJ was placed in non-secure detention. His parents dropped off the planet. He literally had no family. The judge had little or no choice but to send him upstate for a time not to exceed his eighteenth birthday.
Upstate was a horror. This broken, abused boy needed a therapeutic environment, not a prison without bars in the middle of nowhere upstate. He was kept in custody until he was eighteen.
During his time there, it became clear that not only was he physically and emotionally abused, but he was sexually abused as well. Developmentally at eighteen, he was really twelve. He was being discharged with no coping or survival skills.
Where does a young man go with that profile? Who is responsible for him? What chance does he really have at life? He clearly becomes another one of society's casualties because of our ineptness.
Thanks to a couple of caring families from where this young man was raised here in our county, he has a fighting chance. But what about the growing number of TJ's who will never get that chance?