“The Way It Is” is a song by Bruce Hornsby and the Range released in 1986. I am a fan of this 35-year-old song, mostly because of the words, which reflect the world I see in social services.
I want to share some of that with potential Peninsula Home Fund donors.
The first verse is:
“Standing in line, marking time
“Waiting for the welfare dime
“Cause they can’t buy a job
“The man in the silk suit hurries by
“As he catches the poor old ladies’ eyes
“Just for fun he says, ‘get a job”
Now, in my 15 years employed in public service, I have watched people stand in many lines: for rental vouchers, meals, appointments; lines to be seen and lines to be heard.
Getting help is not easy. Our systems are built to our society norms. Services are often rendered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. These times are not easy for people who work low-paying jobs that don’t offer the benefit of flex time or personal time.
Taking off work to go to an appointment often means losing money for the working poor in our communities. Likewise, those with children often can’t find child care or are forced to drag children along to appointments.
How do we break those lines?
I’d like to see more of the internet application options and interviews by phone, but let’s face it, that only captures the demographics of those who know how to navigate the internet or a computer, and those who have phone or internet access.
We have people who need help in rural areas. We have people with no transportation options. We have people who don’t speak English. We have disabled and infirm community members in need. How do we get to those people?
Home visits are ideal, but none of the grants we receive offer that level of operating costs. You would ideally have two people going out to a home for safety reasons.
They would need a vehicle and fuel to get there (insurance, vehicle tags, registration).
They would need a laptop, a way to access the internet, scan documents and take electronic signatures (which also means cell phone charges, software, and IT support.)
Our agency is moving toward an appointment-based system. So when you need help, you go online or call a number and get an appointment to meet with a staff member in your area of most immediate need.
Our hope is that this provides services more effectively and efficiently and reduces the number of returned calls or phone tag we are experiencing now between customers and staff. The system reminds customers of what they need to bring to appointments or have ready at the time of their appointment call.
Some will read the line in the song about buying a job and immediately think, “No way. There are so many jobs available!”
This is true. Lots of jobs are out there (including many open positions at our agency https://olycap.org/employment).
But we must examine what keeps people from taking those jobs.
Barriers include lack of training or qualifications, lack of transport, lack of child care (or elder care) lack of affordable housing and the dreaded benefit-cliff. It’s well-documented that wages have not kept pace with inflation and the costs of goods and services in our country, on top of the increased technological costs. (No one was paying internet or cell phone bills twenty-five years ago.)
Getting a job isn’t that simple when you have no ID, a criminal record, nothing decent to wear, bad teeth and unreliable transportation.
People worry because they see others get low-wage jobs and then watch them lose a child care voucher, rental subsidy, utility assistance or food assistance. Often, the cutoff income for receiving the benefit is even lower than the wages.
Many jobs are not flexible. It often takes dual incomes to keep a household afloat, but jobs aren’t built that way, especially manufacturing/factory work.
The image of a man in a fine suit passing an old woman and telling her to get a job… wow, how many times do I hear and read that?
For our customers on fixed income, due to age/disability, there is no altering their income. As such, their ability to reach basic needs must be supported by social services.
The wage disparity in our country is ever-widening, swallowing so many into the abyss of not making enough to thrive and making too much to get help. So, what do we do when a person is $10 over income for utility services, yet there is a clear need? Your donations to the Peninsula Daily News Home Fund are there.
Now, the third verse of the song is what I like to always point out to others:
“Well, they passed a law in ‘64
“To give those who ain’t got a little more
“But it only goes so far
“Because the law don’t change another’s mind
“When all it sees at the hiring time
“Is the line on the color bar, no, no.”
The “law in ‘64” were the Economic Opportunity Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Economic Opportunity Act is what created community action agencies and codified the laws with respect to the agencies, allowing Olympic Community Action Partnership to be created in 1966.
But after 55 years, our county is still dealing with the issues that lead to the creation of these laws.
The chorus of the song says:
“That’s just the way it is
“Some things will never change
“That’s just the way it is
“Ah, but don’t you believe them.”
Well, I’m inclined to agree that some matters are “just the way it is” and that indeed, “some things will never change,” given our economic system.
Minimum wage laws are attempting to change the income disparities. However, we have millions in our country who work “under the table” or on a cash basis. We still have a number of jobs that rely solely on tips to make income.
And yes, plenty of places are trying to “solve” homelessness, but you always have people who struggle to remain housed, despite the safety nets in place.
We know that currently our mental health care system (or lack thereof) and our judicial system can easily put people into a perpetual poverty and homelessness.
That’s just the way it is.
We certainly have helped people this year with donations to the Peninsula Home Fund and some of their stories would simultaneously break your heart and lift your spirits.
But in the end, let’s face it, some of our clients don’t evoke the empathy other nonprofits enjoy.
We don’t have cute puppies being rescued. We don’t have music and art to show. We don’t produce anything tangible for you to see or hold.
Some of our clients are tough characters. We help people who scream and yell and struggle to carry on a conversation or follow through with directions. We help people who seem to not be “helping themselves” – they are caught in addiction, violence, or trauma and they haven’t found a way to break out.
Our clients aren’t lining up to be photographed or tell their story as they suffer from shame and embarrassment, and now, once something goes online, it lives forever. So, we don’t push people to sign a media release when they receive help; it’s not a quid pro quo.
I can tell you that your donations have helped people with rent, dental work, water bills, phone minutes, new boots, new teeth, prescriptions, internet for a family for a year; but I can’t tell you that the help solved all the problems a householdfaces, and that they won’t be back this year with a different crisis.
Sometimes that’s hard for people donating to swallow. They want their money to solve something; they want to know things are better. Certainly, your donations make things better, with that issue, in that moment, but I’m afraid it doesn’t change the way it is.
I can tell you that we use your donations wisely. I can tell you that the community services block grant the agency receives helps to staff this program so that there are staff members assigned to taking and returning calls, processing paperwork and spending some time with the people you are helping through direct service dollars.
At one time, the agency used volunteers to help with this work, and we may return to that model. In fact, we can always use good volunteers. Our Senior Corp program is a great way to give time and skill instead of monetary support. (https://olycap.org/americorps-seniors/)
On behalf of the staff, the board of directors and the unseen clients of OlyCAP, we want to thank you for supporting us through another difficult year.
The Peninsula Home Fund is special in helping with a household crisis, even when that person may not exactly fit the parameters set by our other programs.
It is a lifesaver in our community.
We can believe in a better day, and each dollar donated to the Peninsula Home Fund helps us take just one more step away from the way things are and the way things have been.
Cherish Cronmiller is executive director of Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) which serves residents of Clallam and Jefferson counties. Among other duties, she oversees the Ol;yCAP disbursement of Peninsula Home Funds.