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Building a Revolution

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
November 19, 2019

As public administrators it is our duty to advocate for and develop policies that protect the communities we serve. When I decided to return to school to earn my degree it was because I wanted to make a change on a systems level for the most vulnerable in our community. As I have gotten into teaching a class on Poverty in America, I’ve realized that many of the social problems we’ve struggled with as a community remain rampant and seemingly ignored. It has been a pleasure to teach students about this topic. However, they are angry at a society that’s developed this way and I am wondering how we could better mobilize to impact social change on a grand scale. In my class discussions, we have learned about past efforts in social revolution and what it might take to reinvent this in our current space. We are such an individualistic society, could this even be possible? Could we mobilize people across America to march on our government and demand a change?

In speaking with a formerly homeless individual here in Seattle, she detailed a few solutions that she could see in impacting social issues we experience every day. I firmly believe that as public administrators it is possible to develop movements to make these changes to move our government along. She detailed four main things that could make a serious change in the lives of homeless people today: providing a steady source of income, or a guaranteed wage; affordable housing that is in line with what a person can afford with their income; access to quality and affordable health care; and a base of community support or a social network.

Certainly, through partnering with community agencies that provide case management or outreach, we can resolve to build those community action networks that support and engage our most vulnerable in the community. The formerly homeless woman I spoke with stated, very excitedly, that her outreach worker from her mental health agency was part of the process that saved her life. She didn’t have the ability to get herself to appointments and the daily support and engagement from this crisis worker made all the difference. But we need to pay these case managers more. Here in Seattle the wage gap in social services is intense and thrusts some workers toward the poverty line simply because they are not earning a living wage. For new graduates with student loans, having the ability to meet their basic needs and work a job that pays them on average about ten thousand dollars over the poverty line makes a difference in whether or not that person can get ahead.

An article that we read in my class centralized around Martin Luther King Jr. and his solution to poverty that he wrote about in one of his final works; a universal basic income. This would mean that every adult would have access to a secured income to help boost them out of poverty. Many times working people cannot meet their basic needs because of the cost of living. More recent efforts at impacting poverty include the national rise in minimum wage and even universal income, but the question always remains: “Who will pay for it?” Social Security is the most significant program in place for a steady income, but if funding runs out there may not be an additional safety net. If we as a society wish to truly combat poverty, issues of joblessness and homelessness or economic crisis, we must invest in our nation’s people and do something that could move them upward

Housing has of course been a hot topic recently, simply because there is not enough of it. As the population increases, so too does the demand for housing; and maintaining affordable options for low income people within urban settings has proved difficult. As public administrators it must be within our duty and scope to write, implement or support policy and legislation that pushes for safe affordable options for our vulnerable neighbors. It can be easy to forget there are people surfing couches, living under bushes or struggling to find space in shelters or even pay their rents; especially when we return to our own heated homes after working all day. But we must be mindful that there are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have stable housing. They need our help.

As we enter into government management in our field, it is vital that we push for what is right and equitable, especially in today’s political climate. We have a unique opportunity to effect change in a systematic way that will break barriers to providing effective services to those who need it most. It is up to us to guide the practice and policies that run our cities, counties and states across the United States. We must be courageous and design a revolution that will overhaul the injustices ever present in today’s society. As public administrators, this is our duty.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and recent graduate of Seattle University’s Master of Public Administration program in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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