Another interesting panel discussion took place at the Columbia Democratic Club on November 12. This meeting featured four excellent representatives from Howard County’s myriad non-profit organizations to discuss the scope of the problems experienced by the low income citizens of the county and the challenges facing the organizations in attempting to provide needed services.
One point raised at the meeting that really struck a chord with the audience is that people don’t notice the low income housing that exists in places around the county. They drive, bicycle, jog or walk past these buildings oblivious to the folks inside the dwellings because they don’t appear to be in that situation. Why? These structures typically have landscaped flower beds in front—begonias to be specific—that create a sort of mask, which hides the economic realities of the tenants.The problem of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues all exist in the county and begonias or not, the problem is very real. Some parts of the county are affected more than others as Howard has a wide range of income disparities. To be clear, the county’s strong government addresses many of these needs through their own services, but more must be done. That’s where the non-profits come in to strengthen the safety net.
We hear during election campaigns how Howard County is one of the wealthiest in the nation. That its school system is second to none in the state, its parks rank among the best in the state and the library system is a model for the country. Magazines tout the county as one of the best to live in. These are all true and politicians should emphasize the positives if they are smart; there is nothing wrong with that. One would not brag about the number of homeless people there are in the county unless, of course, the number is zero. #hocopolitics
So we hear this refrain over and over how great the county is. While this is accurate, it is imperative for the non-profits who provide needed services for those not mentioned in speeches—the begonia people including the homeless—to effectively vie with that messaging and educate a rather uninformed populace.Non-profits must compete among a crowded field of 1,600 similar organizations for resources and volunteers, but they must also battle the perception that the county is brimming only with rich people who send their kids to top-rated schools and play in superior parks.
It is our obligation and duty to vigorously help spread that message. We need to raise the consciousness concerning the folks behind the begonias and those who live on the streets so that the county can fully be proud.