Weaving a better safety net

Jeff vonKaenel

This past Wednesday was a good day for the residents of Sacramento County. A milestone day, because the county supervisors were having a special meeting about our safety net. But instead of discussing ways to cut the critical safety net, they looked at the best ways to improve it.

That’s right. Improve it. Make it better. County officials have been working hard developing plans. Nonprofit agencies have been strategizing about how to make their cases. And individuals told their stories, personal tales that brought home the importance of services for our most needy citizens.

We have nearly 1.5 million residents living in our county. Most of us have our health, a home and a job or retirement income. And we, the fortunate ones, should be grateful.

But there are those who do not. Some made mistakes. Some had the wrong parents, or their genetic roll of the dice did not turn out well. Some of our neighbors have physical disabilities. Some have severe mental illness. Some have not recovered from an abusive upbringing, or are suffering from addiction.

What is clear is that services matter. Housing helps the homeless. Quality foster care helps children in abusive situations. Public transportation helps those who do not have cars or physically cannot drive cars. The list goes on.

It is also clear that there are currently not enough government resources to solve all these problems. So the county’s board of supervisors was asking the right question on April 9: Where should we put our limited resources? And asking the right questions often will produce the right answers.

I was personally moved by the presentations at the meeting. We are very fortunate to have elected officials, county employees and nonprofits who care deeply about these issues. Fixing and improving the safety net is a complicated, difficult and exasperating problem. Anyone who has tried to help someone in crisis knows how difficult it is. Over the last several months, through SN&R’s Custom Publications division, I have had the opportunity to get to know dozens of county employees who are directly working with residents in crisis.

I have talked to a county veterans’ services employee who would walk through fire to help one of her clients. A Medi-Cal worker who teared up when talking about how one of her clients was now going to be able to get health insurance. And I have seen how Paul Lake, director of the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance, and county Supervisor Phil Serna are so proud that fewer of our citizens will be hungry because of increased food-stamp participation.

Last Wednesday was an important day spent trying to fix our safety net. A safety net made of money, effort and love. It was good to see all three ingredients at the meeting.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.