Monday, October 02, 2006

Resource Mandates

In Victoria BC Canada, we are facing a huge shortage of funding for basic resources. Every social agency I have worked for is over-stretched and under-staffed. I guess fast food joints have the same problem, but saving lives is so much cooler than making burgers, so I'll stick to the social work issue here. It's really hard to maintain the mandate that you started with under these trying circumstances. Here at the local needle exchange, we are feeding, clothing, and damn near bathing clients in our sinks because they simply have nowhere else to go. Perhaps Street Outreach Services (our official name) did not set out to handle these things, but sometimes our ideals do not fit with reality so well.

So homeless shelters have become storage facilities, and soup kitchens have become emergency shelters, and food banks have become crisis management centers. There is a mindset out there that says we should all stick to our mandates, and not enable the government to... hold on, I have to stitch up a gushing chest wound...

...ok, what was I saying? Oh yes, the government is getting off pretty easy here, because there are enough compassionate people in Victoria agencies to hold hands and form a love chain all the way to Khandahar. These loving folks will always go the extra for people who suffer, so they get stretched thinner and thinner.

Perhaps these loving people could learn to have boundaries, but perhaps the whole concept of "mandates" is flawed. Does life operate in neat little categories? Those who work with the street population know that chaos is a part of the game. Of course we need funds, but those are slow in coming... way, way too slow. So what are you going to do? Leave people to suffer? Quit helping altogether? I think we need an action plan for how to deal with limited resources. I think volunteerism is one possible direction, for example. We can lobby the government forever, with little results. We can protest and get really angry, but I'm pretty sure that even most members of the current government feel powerless to stop the swell of economic pragmatism that is dominating the climate right now. So maybe it's time to turn to our fellow community members, and promote the idea of helping for free. Would our energy be better spent that way, I wonder? Of course we can't expect to replace the current workforce with volunteers, but we can ease the burden.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the government is not responsible for the cash shortage. Government writes up the budget, and therefore should be accountable. But in the meantime, community workers need to come up with a gameplan as we write those letters to our MLA's and MP's. Any thoughts?

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