Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Friday!

By Colleen Sinsky

Just sharing a cute picture of Outreach Worker Liz, on a new family's move-in day!  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Broken Bootstraps

By Colleen Sinsky

Acknowledging generational poverty isn't popular in America, where we emphasize the ‘can-do’ independent, rugged individualism that liberated our forefathers from the British and Manifest Destiny-ed our way across the Great Plains. We love “rags to riches” stories that tell us that anyone who puts in enough effort can climb up the economic ladder.

The sad reality is that 20% of children in Oregon live in families that earn below the federal poverty line, and of these families, over half have at least one working parent, according to a study by the National Center for Children in Poverty. And, ironically for a nation that so strongly believes in an individual’s ability to be upwardly mobile, the US has the second-highest correlation between parent-child income levels across generations. For a more detailed look at intergenerational mobility in the US, check out this 2006 paper for the Center for American Progress.

Today I talked on the phone to one of our families who just gave birth the other day to a baby who was immediately put on detoxification for the methadone treatment his mother is on. I should let the reader know that multiple agencies and a hospital social worker are involved, and the baby is healthy, the parents are loving and they will all be out of the hospital soon. But what a way to start life. The parents have pretty limited resources and are staying in a temporary hotel situation. We’re working on them getting into a more stable apartment. It’s hard for me not to project forward the life this child statistically may end up living. Yes, it’s possible to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, but sometimes the odds seem depressingly weighted against people.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Funding Woes

By Colleen Sinsky

This will not be a political post. But I need to express somewhere how much I wish that more people in our community could be involved in the implementation of how public money is allocated. It’s often easy to report statistics of success, and talk about the number of clients served. What’s more difficult to track and therefore often overlooked is the number of times our House staff has to tell people that we aren’t able to help them. I want more people to experience having to sit at my desk in the center of downstairs JOIN and become an unwitting fly on the wall, hearing conversations between Outreach workers and our folks-our friends sleeping outside every night who don’t make it into the data reports because we don’t have the funding to bother filling out an intake form. I want those people who walk into JOIN with hope and are turned away empty-handed to be acknowledged. I want to apologize to each of them, on behalf of the funding limitations above both of us, and send them off with more than just a vague recommendation to try another local agency that I know doesn’t have resources either.

It’s easier to write a blog post on something like moving a family off the streets, but I think it’s also important to paint a realistic picture of our limitations as a social service agency. It’s not just JOIN obviously- organizations across the board are strapped for funding. We’re kept afloat, and are able to stay in the fight because of the motivated individuals who run organizations focused on social or ecological justice. I’m amazed every day by the resiliency of people who have dedicated their careers, and often lives, to working an underpaid niche job, knowing that the funding of their program is often arbitrary and beyond their control. I hate that these difficult budget conversations have to happen every day in our office. And that the end result of budget cuts is having to tell someone with zero income that we can no longer support their Honored Citizen bus pass check- often their only link to resources and their community.

José, one of our Retention Workers supports the Portland Safety Net.