What if places where people typically go to receive social services were transformed into places that help generate community & cultural assets?
As the world shifts around the urban poor and they face new challenges associated with economic decline, families may not be aware of services and benefits already available to them. From new services being offered (think Cash for Clunkers) to situations where an individual sudden;y becomes eligible for an existing benefit program, there's no easy way to know what's out there. As a result, resources for every day people (returning vets, the elderly, young mothers, the recently unemployed and others) go unclaimed. And these are just formal resources offered by government agencies. What about the resources offered by nonprofits in your community? How would you know where to go? And then what about the latent potential of the people within your community? What might they be able to offer?
I recently heard that you can get an HIV test at the DMV in Washington DC. I also know of a group in Boston called Health Leads that uses counselors to "prescribe" services like better housing to people who come to hospitals with recurring health issues related to the underlying conditions of their living situation.
I'd like to build on these concepts and turn places where we all 'have' to go anyway (hospitals, post offices, DMVs and the like) into centers for exchange where people can connect with what's already available to them. Getting people what they need is just step 1 though.
Making the experience social is step 2. I'd like to introduce a Skillshare.com type model of teaching and learning in these places for people to come together and surface community assets. This presents an ideal opportunity for companies like Steelcase to get involved, perhaps the CFO can teach a monthly course on financial literacy, or the COO could give a lesson in managing a small business. Corporations can leverage government efforts to create healthier workforces by making them relevant to local communities.
The idea at its core is to create mechanisms that enable people to connect the dots in their lives between what's going on around them and what they need to effectively reverse the effects of economic decline where they live.
If we can empower those in need by first stabilizing their living conditions, we can then reasonably expect them to make contributions in their communities that can set the stage for long-term growth. Vibrancy then is actually a natural byproduct of peoples' shared experiences and a product of solving real problems at the community level.
Example: A woman loses her job and lives in a home with an outdated heating system. She can't afford the price of oil and so she never turns on the heat. She then shows up at the emergency room twice a month, without insurance, with pneumonia. She doesn't know it, but she's eligible for heating assistance. The doctor guesses something might be up and refers her to a counselor who helps her figure this out. The counselor helps her finish the complicated application paperwork. She says she knows 5 other moms from the same firm who have also been laid off, and the counselor encourages her to lead a workshop on how to get help. Since she can relate to what the other moms are going through, she agrees and convinces them all to come to her class. While prepping to lead her workshop, she notices the CFO of Steelcase is offering a session on how to avoid ATM and bank fees and signs up for that too...