Social Services

Yesterday I was fortunate to be able to attend a panel discussion about poverty and the elderly in Cascade County. I sit on a local charity board, and this discussion was a part of our ongoing efforts to educate ourselves ab0ut the problems in our community.

Anyway, four intelligent, well-meaning individuals, each with a different role in the provision of services to the elderly, explained that the problems facing the elderly poor in Cascade County are intractible and getting worse. Increased transportation costs, social isolation, lack of good food, you name it, and the list goes on and on. They can point to 'success stories' where this or that person was helped, but the problems facing the elderly are daunting and the resources directed to the problems are but a tiny fraction of what it might take to really 'fix' them.

When asked to suggest possible solutions, the four raised a variety of interesting ideas. All of them, however, had a common thread. All of the proposed solutions involved new laws or programs, and more dollars.

Let me preface what I am about to say with this. These four women have made incredible sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others. Social service positions are not highly compensated and these folks are doing this because they want to help, not because they think they should get rich. I believe their motives are pure, and my disagreement does not stem from any criticism of them personally.

But I couldn't help coming away from the discussion with the overwhelming feeling that, unless we change our approach to the issue of poverty, it will never get better. (Similar ravings can be found here.) These four experts started out telling us that even considering all of resources spent right now on the issue of poverty, only a fraction of the needs are being met.

Accepting that as true, then, as a practical matter, the present government solutions can never work. I contend that our government will never increase its social service spending ten-fold or twenty-fold. It's just not going to happen. Some would question we could even afford to do it, but I am here to say it just isn't happening in any event.

If you accept my premises that for the current system to 'work' we would need to increase spending ten-fold, and that we will not increase such spending ten-fold, then can we not conclude that we are continuing to spend money on a system that is doomed to failure from the outset?

Further, perhaps borne of the compassion of these individuals, the greatest share of our present dollars are spent in palliative systems. In other words, we spend the greatest share of our resources towards helping an older guy eat today, or a lady get to the doctor tomorrow. Only the smallest share is directed toward trying to reduce the number of these people who will need help in 15 years.

Unless we change our approach to a strategic, long-term one, we will continue along with systems that might be rife with 'success stories' but will be short on actual success.


ZenPanda said...

Those are tough questions. I think we do need a new approach. I think so many people get so used to the "throw money at it" approach that they fail to see any long-term solutions.

Since I do not know the current services available I can't offer a new idea right now but I have extended down-time coming so I can research & see what pops up.

Anonymous said...

There will always be poor and downtrodden people in the world. There will always be some hand stretched out wanting, needing, and even deserving some form of tender mercy.

There are basic welfare principles that must be implemented, ultimately leading to the building of one's character.

Bottom line, we all will be in need of giving and receiving at some point in our lives.

The right questions are:

1)Who do you trust more?
2)Who can help you earn more?
3)Who can deliver more?
4)Don't you deserve more?
5)Can you do it better?