Helping the Vulnerable
The growing number of San Diego’s homeless population—now the fourth-highest in the country, prompted an urgent solution to the crisis. The Mayor of the city approved $11 millions for three “bridge shelters” (“tents, trailers and other facilities” like “safe parking zones for people living in their cars or RVs”) to be built by June 2020. Since the approved funding comes from a nonrenewable source, the plan still needs a long-term strategy to ensure financial sustainability. But the success of a similar shelter built in 2017, which helped reduce the homeless population by 6 percent, encouraged the move forward.
This piece of news reminded me of three things:
- An article relating Denmark’s adoption of creative solutions for vulnerable groups of people – specifically, for individuals with dementia. Following the lead of the Netherlands, Canada, and Italy, Denmark built the “Svendborg Dementia Village”, which includes 125 homes, some shops, a fitness and hobby center, a library, a salon and a hairdresser, a theater, and a restaurant. While some have expressed concern about the residents being isolated from the world outside, the project was designed to improve the safety and quality of life for this vulnerable group. Its adoption and implementation were due partly to the request of locals with family suffering of dementia, which shows that our voices may matter more than we imagine if we have the courage and opportunity to express our needs and preferences.
- A project I learned about and greatly appreciated during my brief but instrumental experience as a hospital chaplain. For some patients’ families, a big challenge is the need to travel to a new place and spend significant amounts of money on hotels in order to be close to their loved one. To help ease this burden, some communities developed a method of housing patients’ relatives free of charge in specially-designated houses. The process required referrals from hospital staff and was fairly rigorous, but it helped tremendously a group of people facing their own challenges in the process of supporting a vulnerable person.
- A key social work/community development principle I learned during my undergraduate studies in social work: the best way to assist vulnerable people is through programs that enable the target group to become self-sustaining. Such programs function as bridges meant to help people overcome a difficult situation in ways that avoid long-term dependence of assistance. This is easier said than done and it requires strategic thinking based on a good understanding of various factors, including social, psychological, economic, political, and even religious. But the effect is much worth over a rashly-sketched plan that temporarily attenuates a situation without contributing to helping people get out of that situation. This comment is not meant to wholly dismiss initiatives of short-term support; such projects are not necessarily bad, and crises often need them as a first step. I merely wish to highlight their limitations. In so much as it is within our ability to extend help individually or as a community, it would helpful to keep this principle in mind.
Taking the project in San Diego and the two creative ideas mentioned above, what strategic plan can your church community design in order to help vulnerable individuals, and how can your gifts contribute to its success?