A month ago, The Hull House Association announced that it was closing its programs and filing for bankruptcy. Most people likely shrugged their shoulders and moved on, barely taking time to read the article that accompanied the headline. But the closing down of one of the longest running social service institutions has profound implications not just on the lives of the individuals and neighborhoods that it served, but also on helping professionals and on the fabric of the social safety net for our society’s most vulnerable populations.
As a first year student in my MSW at UC-Berkeley, I took a class that discussed the history and context of social welfare in the US. The work of Jane Addams was presented as a seminal event within this history. Ms. Addams came from an upper class family and was drawn, as many of her peers were, to do something about the social ills that she saw within her city. But she was not one to simply hold fundraisers or volunteer. Her idea was to open a home in a poor neighborhood where she and other volunteers would live to serve the needs of the people.
She wanted to be a part of the community that she was serving. Her feeling was that it was only by getting to know who she served could she provide what was needed. Hull House, a national historic treasure, was this settlement house and was expanded through the following century into a range of services, which at last estimate provided services to 60,000 individuals yearly in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Although it was initially privately funded, the Hull House Association had come to rely on public funding for its programs. At some point, it had become almost completely dependent on the whims of political factions and what they believe about providing for the basic needs of people in this country. The debate over the size of the government which rages currently in the GOP Primary campaigns seem a bit like the death knell of organizations like the Hull House which serve the poor in our communities.
Over the past several years, proceeding even the recent recession, I have worked as a social worker in a medical setting. The benefits and programs for the aged and disabled in this country have slowly been whittled down to the nubbins. While programs like Medicare Part D coverage for medications, or recent changes in health care insurance laws allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage have helped, they do not change the fact that the resources for people who are vulnerable are scarce and frightening to those who are living…