Michelle Teheux: Lots of problems, but what about solutions?
GateHouse News ServiceRecently, someone called the newspaper and talked urgently about a major problem she needed help with. She had already called every government agency and charity around and couldn’t think of anywhere else to call except the newspaper.
I couldn’t help her. I gave her the phone number of state legal services because at least one aspect of her problem was legal, but I cannot kid myself that giving her that phone number means I actually helped her.
It’s disheartening. You hate to see people suffer, and know you cannot do anything for them. And it happens a lot.
People will call with complicated and terrible problems and will list all the government offices, charities and social service agencies they’ve gone through, to no avail.
In some cases, they just haven’t yet hit the right agency. In some cases, there just doesn’t seem to be anybody out there whose mission meets up with this person’s needs.
Once in a while, a caller’s situation will be newsworthy. Most often, it’s not, but we try to throw them a lifeline in the form of a phone number at the very least. We in the news business do, after all, tend to have a pretty good grasp of who the go-to person is in just about any situation because that’s what we do — when we need to know something, we figure out who knows about it, and we call that person.
Sometimes our desperate callers list a litany of personal problems, often made up of a mixture of bad luck, health problems and poor decisions.
It’s easy to want to tell some people who are living in a chaotic mess that they ought to have made better decisions for themselves. However, the reality is that sometimes the mess was caused or exacerbated by things that are out of their control, like disabilities, illnesses and such.
Somehow, somebody needs to help these people. But it’s often not at all clear who that somebody is going to be.
I expect that in the future I’ll be getting a lot more phone calls from people who are at the end of the line, desperately calling for help, thanks to budget cuts. Some cuts have already taken place, and more are coming.
State and federal cuts to programs that benefit low-income people sound like a great idea if you are part of the middle or upper class. Most of us won’t feel these cuts. But they will hit hard some of the poorer people in our midst.
A lot of people like to say that instead of government taking care of every sick, disabled or struggling person, the private charity is the answer. But that won’t always work. Charities may not always have the funds to help everyone who needs it.
So my question is, what’s the solution here? If it’s not government, and if it’s not private charity, what is it?
One philosophy you hear a lot about nowadays is “every man for himself” — that each person should make good choices and solve his own problems. That sounds just great until you talk to some of the people who need help.
Then you realize you would have to say, “Gosh, lady, I guess you should have thought a little bit harder about whether you wanted to give birth to a baby with a heart problem,” or “Still think it was a good idea to marry a man who would someday lose his job for taking off too much time to have chemotherapy?”
Because, honestly, an awful lot of the times, people with big problems have been hit with some very bad luck. I reject the idea that those who cannot help themselves should be allowed to just suffer, and I believe most people out there agree with me.
So in a time of cuts in government and private charities, the question remains: What are we going to do about all the people out there who have problems they can’t solve for themselves?
Editor Michelle Teheux may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.