It is hard to believe that the presidential election is less than two months away. Whatever presidential team is elected, they will make history. Unfortunately, the drama around this presidential election seems to be overshadowing all of our domestic issues. Each presidential candidate seems to be light on the domestic action plan that will address the skyrocketing taxes, our struggling schools, our inadequate, unaffordable housing, jobs for the working class, accessible human resources for those in need or in crisis and most importantly, affordable, comprehensive and accessible health care.
We are a nation at war. At some point, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will end. Our young men and women in uniform service will return home. Some will return to their jobs that were held for them. Many will return with no job possibilities and limited skills for the even more limited jobs that are presently available due to our economy.
However, what is even more troubling is the lack of adequate mental health and rehabilitative services available for those returning soldiers in need. There are too many soldiers returning home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder-that need intensive therapeutic support. Before the war, our Veterans Administration Services were grossly inadequate, with minimal services for those who truly needed them. Since the war, the demand for services has escalated and even fewer services are available.
The recent scandal at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland is only the tip of the iceberg. We lost a brave resident from Suffolk County, who the system failed! Mental health services were painfully inadequate, and not accessible. He died at 30 and left a small child, a wife and a devastated family of origin. His story is only one of many tragic stories that have yet to be told. The next administration must make the mental health and healthcare of our returning veterans a priority issue. We owe that much to those who have risked their lives serving in our military.
In our own larger community our human services are painfully understaffed. The dedicated, courageous men and women who have chosen human services as a career path are heavily burdened and are being burnt out in record numbers. Most human service workers have a ridiculous caseload. Those who are retiring are not being replaced even though replacement staff is desperately needed to meet the needs of people in crisis. A lack of qualified personnel is paralyzing the effectiveness of many of our human service agencies.
The average taxpayer is unaware of the seriousness of this issue, unless they need to access specific services for family members or friends. On a good day, it is difficult to talk to a real human services worker just to get accurate information on how to access the system. The protocol for accessing human services changes regularly without notice.
If you need to speak to a probation officer, it is difficult to get one directly on the phone because their caseloads are so burdensome; they don't have time to field phone calls on a regular basis. If you are homeless and are in need of Medicaid, there are limited hours that one can file an application. One has to be at the centers that take applications by 7 a.m. After they have reached their quota for the day, they stop taking applications. Many have waited on line for hours and have missed the cut off. They must return the next day and hope to get there early enough to make the quota!
Some of the people that need Medicaid are already in a weakened state. They have to take two or three buses to get to a center that takes Medicaid applications. If they don't make the cut off and have to come back the next day, there is no guarantee that they will make the cut off on their next try.
Housing for single males continues to be almost nonexistent. The available housing that is subsidized by tax-payers money is not fit for human habitation. The taxpayers of our county are being cheated. Absentee landlords are making a fortune by exploiting the poor and the homeless. Remember, the poor and the homeless have no voice, and no fixed address. Who represents them? Who advocates for them?
What must be noted is that a growing number of homeless young adults between the ages of 16 and 22 are being placed in some very disreputable environments. What little they have is often stolen. These room and board situations are not clean and safe. Too often, if a young man complains, he is told by the system: "that is all we have." When formal complaints are made, the response is often: "we don't have enough investigators to follow up on them."
There is no plan or mechanism in place to address these growing concerns. Homeless recidivism is epidemic. If we took a different approach, I know from 30 years of working with people at risk, the human outcome could be radically different. We must respect the poor and the needy the same way we respect the rich and the powerful. Most poor people don't want to be dependent on welfare and emergency services. They would prefer to be self-reliant, self-sufficient and independent.
The great human tragedy that is unfolding right before our eyes is that a growing number of not-for-profit agencies are diminishing at an escalating rate. Government is making it impossible for them to keep up their valuable work. Our poor economic times are causing those who are generous to reorder their giving priorities.
Since the Bush Administration, the federal government and local state and county governments have wanted the not-for-profit community to assume greater responsibility in the delivery of human services for the poor and the needy. Unfortunately, the government is not willing to pay what is fair and just. Too often, they expect well-trained, well educated, not-for-profit workers to work for substantially less wages than their counterparts in government. There is something radically wrong with that picture!
If we continue on the path we are traveling, in the final analysis there will be little left in place to assist the growing number of people in need and in crisis. Ultimately, we are going to spend 10 times more to support people in need.
Presently our response to the poor and needy is an inadequate band aid - when our system of human services needs radical surgery!