Election Day is fast approaching. Our mailboxes and roadways are being littered with millions of dollars of propaganda that say little or nothing about the real issues we face in the County and as a local community. One would think with these difficult economic times that those running for public office would spend campaign funds in a more prudent way, especially with the rumored 11% cut coming down from Albany for all programs. The hardest hit will be those programs that deal with human services, the poor and the needy.
Wouldn t it be interesting if all those running for public office this November would give 10% of their campaign funds to a General fund to be used to create grants? These monies could be used for programs that are running the risk of being destroyed and/or shut down because of fiscal woes so that they might have a chance of surviving and serving people in desperate need.
This election year, although not a presidential year, is very important. Every township is facing serious fiscal concerns. As a county, we are in serious trouble. Every department that serves the public interest is being seriously cut. The Department of Social Services is being seriously cut. Probation is being asked to cutback and each of the sub departments in each of these entities is facing cutbacks.
Senior staff in each major department, if eligible for retirement, are being encouraged to retire. Most of those positions are not being filled. Most agencies serving the poor and the needy are overburdened with needs to be met and have minimal staff to respond.
Homeless families are on the rise and we have few to no appropriate resources in this regard. Homeless teenagers are also on the rise for a variety of reasons. We have less than appropriate resources to meet their needs. Most of the emergency placements are shocking to say the least.
Why do we have an increase in homeless youth? Depending on with whom you speak and what you read you will get varying responses. My response is based on working with troubled young people on a daily basis. Homelessness is becoming a problem because addiction is becoming more of a problem. There is a growing need for long-term treatment beds for young people between the ages of 16 and 25. Unfortunately, for variety of reasons, there are not enough beds for treatment. The 28 day model for treatment is grossly inadequate based on the issues that young people are putting forth.
TJ is 18. He was born into an average family with two loving parents and three younger brothers and sisters. As a freshman in high school, he started to experiment with prescription medication, smoking pot and drinking alcohol. For freshman and sophomore year, he navigated under the radar. His parents and teachers did not detect his use.
At the beginning of his senior year, his behavior was out of control. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Shortly after that, he was caught in school smoking weed. By Thanksgiving, his parents were overwhelmed. They sought guidance from various professionals and kept hitting the same stone wall. Each professional told them that unless TJ was willing to seek help there was little that his parents could do to force the issue.
The DWI charge became a problem for TJ. The court wanted him to get treatment as a condition of his probation. TJ paid lip service to that condition, but did little to follow up. When his parents asked if he was going to treatment, he lied. He said he was going, but never went. He continued to drink and get high. He was suspended from school due to the weed issue.
After his suspension was completed, he never went back. Shortly after Christmas, he stayed out all night and never came home. His parents wanted him home. They attempted to reach out to him but he was unwilling to respond and unwilling to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Initially, he stayed with friends, and eventually wore his welcome out. He started to stay in his car until his registration expired and he failed to meet an insurance payment. He became desperate and went to social services for emergency housing. He was placed in a room and board situation that was scandalous. He stayed there until he couldn t take it any longer. At eighteen, he was the youngest in the house. The place was filthy and unsafe.
The circumstance that forced him to leave and seriously consider residential treatment was the night that his sneakers and small duffel bag full of clothing was stolen. No one was willing to help him.
A formal complaint was filed, but unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn slowly and in some cases, don t move at all. Shortly after leaving his emergency placement, TJ was screened for a long term treatment program. A few weeks after his screening, a bed became available. He s been there ever since, and as of this writing is getting better every day. He is learning the skills of recovery and is navigating life s complicated landscape.
Recently in my sociology class, I took a survey on how many students were registered to vote and how many knew who was running for office in their respective townships. Most that were eligible to vote were registered. However, very few knew the candidates who were running for office, what parties they represented and the positions that needed to be filled.
When we spoke about the issues for this election year, it was even more troubling to discover that very few had any sense of what the issues are. Even more troubling, was the attitude of indifference - where they believed their vote was meaningless and that it wasn t worth the effort to go out and vote.
We spent the better part of that class talking about how they can make a difference and that their vote is important. These are college students and many of them are clueless. What are we teaching in our mandatory government classes on the high school level?
The poor, the needy and the young have no voice. We need to give voice to their concerns. This election year is a critical one. We should vote for the person who seems best equipped to represent our needs. It is not about party affiliation or party politics. It s about justice and electing men and women who are genuinely committed to making a difference in the quality of life for all of us!