I recently attended a presentation in which a national expert was reporting on how major cities across the country were navigating the coronavirus crisis. The trait this expert identified amongst cities responding well to this crisis?
Trust in our systems and structures; trust in individual agencies and hospitals and offices–and, of course, trust in one another.
As our community continues working through this crisis–the public health crisis, the economic crisis, and the many other crises that they have and will begat in health, housing, education, child care, and so forth–we’re having to rely on our trusted relationships and new relationships alike as we reach out to be of help, and reach out to ask for help.
This is why our community has been turning to the health and human services sector in unprecedented numbers since March. That won’t be stopping any time soon, as our sector braces to meet the needs each day requires. But our agencies are bracing not only for the challenges of the next seven days, but of the seven weeks, seven months, and seven years to come. Indeed, even though our state and city are reopening, the needs of our community are not going to concurrently recede. To the contrary, the tide of challenges will be rising for some time, and we’re not all in boats equipped to handle the rockiness to come.
In other words, the inequities that existed in our community and our country before are being exacerbated and highlighted now. Our agencies know that better than anyone, and I am tremendously proud of each of our agencies, their leaders, their social workers, their case workers, their board members, and their volunteers–they’re doing Herculean work in a harrowing time. They’re leading in service delivery, they’re leading in advocacy, and they’re leading our community like never before.
But nonprofits can’t fix everything. And our community knows that.
Prior to this crisis, there was a lot of benevolent momentum in the Columbus Region to tackle our inequities, because our community knew there were enormous challenges in front of us. That momentum and cross-sector determination to change things remains. We see that every day in our relationships with leaders in business, philanthropy, higher education, libraries, the arts, and government, as they all seek to support our member agencies however they can through this crisis.
But the work is harder and more complicated right now because of the unique stressors the the federal government has heaped upon the the social safety net in recent years. Indeed, this was already the most important year for the health and human services sector in generations; that is exponentially truer now. That is why we will continue calling on Congress to step up and shore up the social safety net with necessary stimulus dollars, with necessary policy and regulatory adjustments to improve access to services, and with necessary investments to help the people our agencies are working so hard to serve.
Beyond the immediate crises, we have to be thinking about the long-term as a community and country, too. As we rebuild and reimagine what we want from and for ourselves in the future, we’ll need to do more than recover to what we once were, we’ll need to rededicate ourselves to achieving our country’s original promise. As Langston Hughes once charged us: Let’s be the America “that never has been yet—And yet must be.”
I trust that we can. But only if we do this work together.