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.