Island Forum: Need grows greater as social services cut

By Nancy Hilliard
Island Forum

We’re all getting them — the pleas from agencies, universities and other nonprofits to help stem the budget bleeding, as the economy worsens and donations dwindle. Even University of Washington President Mark Emmert’s letter to alums had a gaspy tone, as the state Legislature toys with the higher ed budget axe. Emmert urges us to lobby the solons for more support.

Didn’t we just hear Gov. Gregoire tell us we have a potential $6 billion deficit?

Another social service targeted for elimination is the region’s adult day health centers, says Collin Tong, whose wife depends on one in her mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease. He says that around 4,000 people use Elderhealth and 35 other adult day health centers in Washington. Sixteen adult day health centers in King and Snohomish County could be eliminated.

“Adult day health centers serve an important segment of our vulnerable and rapidly aging population, many of whom are permanently disabled. We cannot afford to abandon them now,” says Tong, who also asks us to lobby the legislators.

Not only government programs feel the squeeze.

The annual bell-ringing campaign for the Salvation Army was down this season, in part from the heavy snow. That means less assistance to immigrants, the homeless and jobless just as the need increases, says Captain Terry Masango, who leads the Renton Corps. While $95,000 was collected in this area’s kettles by Rotarians, Kiwanians, Key Clubs and other service clubs and volunteers during the holidays, the $120,000 goal went south.

Agencies dependent on charitable giving noticed that the income began dropping “around last summer,” says Masango. Yet, rent and utility assistance requests rise, as do the need for foodbanks and meals, after-school programs for kids, and job preparation programs.

The homeless, a less visible segment of our society, will be counted on Jan. 29 in the National “1-night count” to document their numbers. Masango and social service workers will join in counting those sleeping in cars, under bridges, in alcoves, under tarps, in tents and shelters, if they’re lucky. This nationwide census becomes an indicator to planners.

It looks like we’re all in this foxhole together. At home, we’re cutting back the best we can. New fundraising campaigns will surely hit our blind spots. Even as we become frugal, there are surely ways to help our neediest: Perhaps volunteer to tutor foreign-speaking immigrants so they can learn English and get jobs ... carry nutrition bars in our cars and hand them out to the hungry ... clean out our cupboards and closets and get them to thrift stores ... buy at thrift stores ... do more local activities and business to save gas ... ride the buses ... ask a shelter or food bank what they need ... or volunteer at your local adult day care center.

As we tighten our own belts, let’s not be stingy with human kindness.

Nancy Hillard is an Island resident.

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