Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Godfather of the West Side

I keep a little legal services clinic on the West Side of San Antonio. It is the oldest barrio in the country, as far as I'm concerned, with the culteral stamp of uniquiness and originality one would experience in Little Italy or Chinatown. Someone from the outside could not beg, borrow, or steal one of the modest old homes around here, which pass from generation to generation. It is such a closed enclave of latinos that I am not surprised when I meet old and young people alike who don't speak English (don't want to) and have left the few square miles of urban jungle only a handful of times.

The neighborhood is plagued by drugs, poverty and gang violence. There are no jobs, and I'm sure that the young have little sense of opportunity for a future with good jobs and schools. 58% of live births in Bexar County are paid for with state Medicaid funds, and on thw West Side, that figure is, no doubt, significantly higher. Children here are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses that attend poverty often, like asthma, and developmental problems originating in early childhood. Most kids are born at Santa Rosa Hospital; run by the Catholic Church. But also, the kids here are more likely to need special education services to help with learning difficulties endemic in all poor, minority populations.

The people of the West Side are heavily dependent on Food Stamp supplements, and require a disporportionate amount of free housing. A mother of five with a 7th grade education, and no prospects, at some point would probably need a place to stay for her and her family - that's who is in housing; old people, too. The alternative is homelessness.

They need transportation for medical services, job training, mentors, Big Brothers, legal aid, continuing education and GED programs, prison transition programs, after school programs, parenting classes, nutrition education. They need homeless shelters, free clinics, veterans assistance, voter education. They even need caring people to donate and distribute toys at Christmas for children who would not otherwise have anything.

My friend, Fred Gonzales, who is a social worker here, has been helping this community with these things for 28 years. He was born to poverty, and lived with his large family in a colonia on Guadalupe Street where the streets were unpaved and water came from a communal well, all in the shadow of downtown - just a few blocks away.

Fred has helped literally thousands of folks in need for everything from housing to adoption services. Right now he needs help.

The state has sliced his contract, and they did it in such a way that appears political. The state sent a cadre of "investigators," into the neighborhood to dig up dirt, and when they couldn't readily find any, they made stuff up.

To me, it is a strong-arm effort to get rid of important social work operations under contract and then assume these court-ordered services themselves. If anybody has ever spent an hour, or more, waiting on the phone, only to hang up in disgust, or just have them hang up anyway, then it is easy to imagine the quality and efficacy of any new service, such as this, would be in the future under state control.

The individuals that soldier on on the service of humanity are almost never recognized for their self-sacrifice, and the small group of dedicated men and women who persist in helping others beyond a six-month grant, or a grad student project don't spend a lot of time seeking recognition. However, some of these folks are the proverbial, "cannary in the coal mine," and once they are lost, sometimes we lose everything.


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