I had the pleasure of spending last weekend in San Francisco. It has been over 5 years since I last visited the city, and so I was looking forward to experiencing all that it and its people have to offer. From a tourist perspective, my expectations were met in terms of sightseeing, enjoying the variety of restaurants, and taking in some of the museums and art galleries. On this trip, however, my eye turned to the needy, the homeless, and the many people on the street who appeared in need of a meal, as well as to those who appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
I was also present to the variety of ages within this group—including young children, teenagers, young and mature adults and those in their senior years. I really was overwhelmed by the number of individuals I came across no matter what area of the city I was in. Whether I was in the heart of the Union Square business district, in Chinatown, around the Bart stops to and from the airport or Fisherman's Wharf, those in need were everywhere. It is difficult to imagine the enormous task that faces all the social agencies, community groups, religious groups, and the family and friends who attempt to meet the needs of such a large and growing group of citizens that find themselves “on the edge”.
On Sunday morning, a local paper featured the latest budgets that were about to be approved by the California State Legislature and by the City of San Francisco on the front page. The report was that the budgets contained deep cuts to social agencies and health services that serve some of the poorest districts of the State and of San Francisco. Already there were increasing numbers of homeless people being turned away from shelters due to lack of funds. In fairness, this is not just occurring in San Francisco. It is occurring all over North America due to the current economic challenges.
Currently, much of the recovery effort is focused on getting businesses (large and small) back on their feet. As the source of jobs and value creation, this is an appropriate focus. But what about the growing numbers of people that now find themselves in need of a helping hand? How do budget cuts that impact those most in need benefit the social sustainability of our society in North America? The decisions facing today's political leaders are very difficult indeed.
Fortunately, there remains many people in North America who are in the position to share the very best of who they are and bring their wisdom, energy, talent, and compassion to those less fortunate members of our society. At the Eldering Institute, we recognize these people as Elders. There is also a need for North Americans to begin to spend in order to help get our economy moving again and to provide businesses with the incentive to hire back some of the individuals who have been laid off.
Consider the impact in our local communities if Elders, with the financial means, were to intentionally spend a portion of their income and savings on food, clothing, shelter, and services for those that really need our help. Could we kick-start our economy by actually helping to meet the everyday needs of those less fortunate or those just down on their luck? There are many social agencies in our communities that would welcome the opportunity to advise us on how our financial expenditures could make the biggest difference in the lives of people living on the fringe.
Imagine Elders leading people of all generations to create a world that truly works for everyone! Can we make a difference in our communities? YES, WE CAN.