Thursday 27 March 2014

What is United Chesed?

What is United Chesed?

We get this question a lot. Or some such variation, the most popular being: how are you different than JF&CS? Circle of Care? Tomchei Shabbos? Bikur Cholim? Ve’ahavta? Or, why do we need you when we have Ontario Works? Disability? CPP? Old Age Security?

I’m glad you asked.

No, really, I am.

The Toronto Jewish Community has many resources available for those in need. As do the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments. We are not here to do their jobs. We couldn’t if we wanted to – we’re too small an organization.

We’re here to fill the gaps.

The best metaphor we have for you is an Emergency Room. When someone has a medical emergency then the ER is where they go. Sometimes it’s a last resort destination, after clinics, doctors’ offices, and nurses’ hotlines aren’t able to help. Sometimes it’s a first resort destination, when a person doesn’t know where else to go and doesn’t have the time to wait. In some cases, the patient is treated in the ER and goes home all patched up. In some cases, the ER isn’t equipped to help and all it can do is send the person along to a medical expert that can help with that patient’s particular problem. In most cases, the solution is somewhere in between. And, in every case, the ER is all about triage, about prioritization and speed – about knowledgeable individuals making quick assessments and moving patients through the process, as expeditiously as possible.

That’s United Chesed. We do triage for financial emergencies. Some of our “patients” – we call them clients – come to us first because they aren’t aware of all the resources available to them. Some come to us after every other option that they’ve tried has been unsuccessful. They come to us because they don’t have the time to wait for paperwork to be processed and appointments to be scheduled.

Sometimes what we do is enough – a client, for example, can usually make ends meet but this one time there’s just one unexpected bill. We pay it and they go back to their lives.

Most times, though, that is not the case. After all, most emergency room patients have quite a road of recovery ahead of them that can’t be permanently fixed in the ER. We understand that. So, we do what needs to be done to stabilize our clients – be it a food coupon, a bill payment, or a donated item, such as diapers or medical equipment – then we refer them to an agency or organization that can better assist them, long-term. Think of it like an ER doctor referring a patient to a specialist for follow-up treatments.

As with an emergency room, we see people at their worst – when they’ve been hurt, humiliated, mistreated, and neglected. We talk to clients who are overwhelmed by their situations, who are confused and angry. Clients who are suffering alone and clients who are watching their children suffer alongside them. We do what we can. We listen to them, we bandage them up, we point them in the right direction. And then we hope.

We hope – like every triage nurse, like every ER doctor – we hope that that person will never have to see us again.

Thursday 13 March 2014

How to Say No

Most people don't like asking for help. Even admitting one needs help can be a severe psychological hurdle. Asking for help can be embarrassing and debilitating. It can feel like failure or surrender. It can feel like an admission of guilt. Or, worse, inferiority.

There's only one thing worse than asking for help: asking for help and hearing no.

N. O. 

After all that...can you imagine? Admitting you need help, summoning up the strength and courage to ask for that help, making the call and then, instead of breathing a sigh of relief, you are face to face with this small, two letter word that means all of your efforts were for naught.

No means abandonment. It means being ignored, being ostracized, being devalued. No means that, while the rest of the world continues to survive, to thrive, to function – you have been consigned to be left by the wayside.

Unfortunately, all agencies and non-profits face days when that is the only answer they have. When it doesn't matter how dire the situation, how justified the client, how desperate the need – the organization cannot help.

At United Chesed, we are no different. We're a small organization with very limited funding and a very specific mandate – we offer one-time or short-term emergency care to the Jewish community in the GTA. We cannot support a client on an ongoing basis. We cannot offer legal or medical advice. We cannot give unspecified funds or provide housing. Unfortunately, there's a lot we just cannot do.

But there is one thing we can always do. We can listen. And we do. Even if we can't help, we offer our clients our full attention. By listening, we are saying: we see you, you matter, your problems are important, your existence is valuable. We want to make sure that it is clear, even if we have to say no, that we are not saying no to a client's humanity or to the validity of his or her need. 

In other words, when we say noit's about us, our limitations, not the client. When we say no, we still feel connected to the client, to finding a solution to his or her problem. We just know that we aren't going to be able to offer that help directly. 

That's why we make it our business to be aware of as many resources as possible so that every no can be accompanied with some direction as to where to go to hear yes. Chances are, even if we can't help, there's another organization that can and we want to be able to help our client find that yes.

We all have to say no sometimes but how we say it makes all the difference. No doesn't have to be a cruel word. No doesn't have to mean "you and your problems don't matter to me". No doesn't have to be a slammed door. It can simply mean "I'm not the right person for the job". Because, at the end of the day, saying no should really say more about the person saying it than the person hearing it. Consider this, the next time someone asks for something and you have to say nois your no about you or is it about them? Which no would you want to hear?

Thursday 20 February 2014

World Day for Social Justice: Facing the Reality of Poverty Among Us

Today, February 20, 2014, is World Day for Social Justice – a day on which the United Nations calls on all countries to consider actions to fight poverty and inequality. It sounds like a day of grand ideas, lofty goals, global revolution. Which it is. But it is also a day to think of the smallest child, living possibly right next door or down the street, who does not have enough to eat for breakfast. 

To think of that child’s parents who may be immigrants struggling to find work or who may be living with a chronic illness or disability. Or maybe this child has only one parent, a mother running from an abusive spouse or irresponsible ex-spouse or mourning the unexpected loss of her spouse. 

Maybe this child has an older sibling who is dealing with drug addiction or mental illness. Or just the stark reality that the current economic climate isn’t hiring his/her age group. 

Maybe this child has a grandparent who is bedridden and lonely or unable to afford proper care. 

Maybe there was a time that this family was fine – financially secure, healthy, happy. Maybe not. Maybe they’ve been brought low by the recession or by illness or by death. Maybe they were reckless and unlucky. Maybe they were just unlucky. 

Either way, this family, this young adult, this mother, this father, this grandparent, this child – they are now to be counted among the poor of our planet. They have joined a fast-growing group. Too fast-growing. A group that includes members from every continent, every country, every ethnic group, religion, race. 

And this child lives in your neighbourhood.

Everyone wants to end poverty but to do so, we need to recognize poverty in all its forms. We need to recognize it in the faces of people who live on the other side of the planet and look and act nothing like us. And we need to recognize it when it is right in front of our faces and looks exactly like we do.

We don’t always want to acknowledge that there are poor people in our community. Most people like to think of the Toronto Jewish community as affluent and successful. And we are. But that is not the whole picture.

There are people in the Toronto Jewish community who do not have food in their cupboards. Who do not know how they will pay their rent. Who live in fear every day. Fear that they will never find work. Fear that they will become homeless. Fear that someone will take their children away. Fear that they will die cold and alone. And forgotten.

Some of these people are Holocaust survivors. Some of these people are refugees. Some of these people are abuse victims. Some of these people are four years old.

Today is World Day for Social Justice. The world is a big place and social justice is an imposing concept. So, don’t let the name fool you. Start small. Think of your neighbour.