By Barbara Haller
When Rose asked me to write an article on the sage of the loss of Henry Lee Willis Community Services I hesitated before saying yes. This is a complex story with much still unknown. There are so many aspects to this, so much angst, so much pain, so many questions. It is hard to decide where to focus. That being said, this is a situation of vital importance to Worcester. And so I make an attempt to explain what we know, to summarize the key issues as I know them.
All of us who love and live in Worcester must feel outrage over what has happened. We have been and continue to be disrespected on so many levels. Outrage must lead us to call, write, and talk about it to our family, friends, colleagues, elected State officials, elected local officials.
So many in our community have spoken eloquently about the magnitude and broad reach of the closing. I urge readers to go to the City Council’s web site for the video of Monday, 2/4/12, Council Committee of Public Health and Human Services and watch and listen to community leader and activists as they grapple with this. It will make you proud and it will show you the depth of destruction we are facing as a community. Find the time and share this.
Here is the link: http://view.liveindexer.com/ViewIndexSessionSL.aspx?siteSKU=v8DtaSEkm6TB6AlPIZIUkA%3D
Accountability: Question: how can the state defund community-based programs without including the community in the discussion? Ans: because they can – they have the power of the purse.
Cultural competency: Question: have the new providers demonstrated cultural competency? Ans. Mostly no.
Power: Question: who benefits from this? Ans: SMOC, Advocates are the biggies – both from Framingham. Both get both property and programs.
Local Opportunity: Question: Can Worcester-based organizations complete? Ans: Not easily. To quote Councilor Rivera, “Small fish, big shark.”
Timing: Question: this was announced mid-December 2012, saying the state has to scramble to keep people being served. This is hard to believe. Ans: some people knew a lot, some people knew a little. Merger/acquisition talks had happened and failed.
Why: Question: the state has said the defunding was done “without reason” as is it’s perogrative; the state has also said “Based on serious concerns with financial management and client care issues, state agencies have moved to terminate all contracts with the Henry Lee Willis Center.” (Telegram, 12/11/2012) What gives? Ans: who knows and the state has said it will not comment further due to a potential investigation. As many have said, shouldn’t the invesitgation be real and completed before defunding?
State leadership: Question: where is our governor, lt governor, state delegation on this? Ans: we are told that no one knew anything. Question: but where are you now? We need leadership to get Worcester at the table. Ans: deafening silence.
Jobs: Question: will people be hired by new providers? Ans: not known and as far as we know, not yet.
Options: Question: can we stop it? Injunction against the state? Ans: the nasty deed is already done.
And on and on.
One positive that I can think of – our Mayor and local city councilors are engaged on this now. We need to tell them to keep on it. Our trust in state government has been seriously damaged. We need new strategies to heal what has been done and to protect us from having this happen again to another local, community-based group.
And we need to find ways to compete with the “big sharks” that look to Worcester to expand their power. Social service is big business because it has big money associated with it. But social service is also community-based service and local providers give neighborhoods a sense of connectivity and access. The community is community services needs to be prominent for everyone’s benefit.
Speak up. Shout out.