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What is social service? What is the job of a social service agency? Why is it taboo in the Austin community to speak about social service agencies openly or to question them? Who are they, and why do they exist? These are questions that I ask myself over and over again. That's why I decided to ask a few other people to tell me what is social service. Before I continue, let me say that there are many fine social service agencies in Austin that offer help to those in need. I'm not criticizing those agencies.
I asked a good friend of mine, who is very active in the community, for his idea of a social service agency. He very loudly proclaimed that social service agencies are "poverty pimps" who benefit from blight and organize vulnerable people around issues that are self-serving.
I asked another person whose opinion I respect. This person talked about "grant hustlers." (Please stay with me.) These are people who go after whatever money is out there. For example, if there is ex-offender money available, they do that. If there are battered women's grants available, they do that. Wherever the money is, that is what they do, whether they have experience in that field or not: even if there is another agency which can do the job better?"and often there are.
To "grant hustlers," it's not about the people; it's about keeping their social service agency on top.
I then decided to see how Webster's dictionary defines social service:
"An activity designed to promote social well-being; specifically: organized philanthropic assistance of the sick, destitute, or unfortunate." According to Mr. Webster (in laymen's terms), social service agencies are groups that receive government funds that are supposed to be used to "assist the sick, destitute, or unfortunate." Hmmm. Well, I guess there are a lot of people who are sick, destitute and unfortunate in our community, so maybe "poverty pimping" and "grant hustling" is what has kept Austin from collapsing in on itself.
I am committed to Austin because my heart is with this community, and I have always tried to stay positive in this column, but I would be remiss if I didn't comment on this phenomenon.
I wonder if we haven't created a monster in our community that is sucking the life blood right out of us as a people. There are those who receive millions, yes, millions of dollars by portraying Austin as blighted and in need of a savior to rescue us from ourselves. I cannot understand the logic of how this monster works.
I was called to a meeting not too long ago to discuss land development in the Austin community. As a former contractor, I expected to see developers, architects, contractors, bankers, and all of the components which are needed to discuss ingress and egress, setbacks, landscaping, lighting, parking and such. But here they were, social service agencies, representing "the community." I asked if we could get information about the backgrounds of everyone involved so we would know where they would fit. I felt it was a simple request. Every time I have applied for a job, I have been asked about my experience in that particular field. So what is wrong with having those with a proven track record perform the jobs for which they are qualified? There was one individual who was so bold as to jump up during this meeting on land development and claim to have a master's degree in psychology.
I don't get it.
Is it me or is something rotten in Denmark? If this is to be the great community that we all know it is and want it to be, it is going to take all of us who smell something rotten to not turn up our noses and look away, but find and pinpoint what or who is making the community sick.
We cannot continue to just talk about it. The stakes are too high. Our children are depending on us to make the right decisions now, in order to benefit them later.
"A wise man will leave an inheritance for his children and his children's children."