Saturday, July 4, 2009

Developing a Sense of Community among Clients

Social capital supports people immensely. Social capital in the form of having relationships with families, friends, support through a faith based group or club affiliation. Some coworkers hopefully. Maybe a friendly baker.

My clients’ lives are that much more difficult because they lack social capital. The department I work for provides case management to 6 buildings whose mostly consist of tenants living alone. Those without kids have families spread out throughout the state or beyond and this is even truer of our elderly clients. The majority of our residents are recognized as disabled by the state for mental or physical illnesses. For many their medical conditions or addictions prevent them from developing sustained friendships with others. Not to say everyone lives in a bubble on his own, but if people have friends these tend to be pockets of friendships. Maybe the lack of having a strong social network is more typical of a city but it’s unsurprisingly a real hindrance in some ways. Sometimes people don’t know or trust their neighbors to the degree that they don’t want to gather with their neighbors to speak up collectively if there’s something wrong with their building. Like in the cases it’s infested with mice or roaches. We do individually advocate to landlords on behalf of people, but we don’t take part in mobilizing the clients to take group action. We encourage clients to reach out to the other tenants in their buildings but often we hear the response that they don’t know the people in the complex or don’t feel comfortable in approaching them. Combine that with fear of retaliation from management and it slows down clients banding together to take action.

So the supportive network these people lack my agency tries to fill in – through the program I work for and others that cover a larger part of the city. Some clients thrive on the programming we do, and are either well established with one case manager or are tied in with our onsite physician, soup kitchen or exercises programs.

Next month a case manager in another department is going to take a group of her clients to a fair and suggested that we advertise it to clients in my department because it’s in the neighborhood (where the six buildings that fall under my program are located). I thought it was a great idea and told her I’d help spread the word. Getting residents to go to an event like that together may help sew seeds that could lead to friendships. Let’s start with that.

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