Connecting the dots - Shawn Loughlin editorial
There is very often a direct cause and effect related to most societal problems. Those who don’t think so simply have their heads buried in the sand.
It’s become fashionable as of late to hang those in need out to dry for one reason or another. Whether it’s U.S. President Donald Trump turning his back on Puerto Rico or us looking down our noses at criminals, addicts and those left behind, we’re not connecting the dots in regards to what makes our towns great or what fractures their landscapes.
In Chicago, for example, there was a massive surge in gun violence in 2016. The murder rate nearly doubled to just under 725 killings. Shooting incidents in the city counted well over 3,500. This year is on pace to be just as bloody in the Windy City.
So, what changed? Chicago’s murder rate hadn’t been low by any means, but it was relatively static in the 10 years before 2016, often fluctuating between 450 and 500.
In 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut $200 million from the city’s school budget, laying off 1,400 employees. Many of those resources were lost in schools in the city’s south side, affecting poor, mostly black neighbourhoods, leaving the affluent north side untouched.
It’s not hard to draw a straight line from one thing to the other in this situation. However, many, among them Trump (again), are quick to label cities like Chicago renegade communities that make their own beds and now they must lie in them.
After seeing a presentation by John and Heather Steffler at a recent Huron County Council meeting, I couldn’t help but draw a similar line right here at home.
Tanner, John and Heather’s son, died from an overdose earlier this year. He wanted help and the county couldn’t give it to him and he paid for that lack of resources with his life.
In mid-October, esteemed journalist Mary Baxter published a piece on the TVO website about the drug epidemic in Huron County. Baxter reported that more than one in four residents admitted to regularly drinking heavily. She also highlighted Huron County’s rising drug problem, which shocked many.
While Huron County councillors were initially concerned with what kind of effect the story would have on the county’s image, conversation soon turned to what to do next. If Baxter was right, and councillors had no reason to doubt her reporting, what could they do to help their residents in need?
The story made it clear that Huron County has a problem. But, like the Stefflers said that day, are these simply weak problem children for whom we can do nothing? No, these are children that very often grow up in loving households with plenty of opportunities.
In her piece, Baxter outlined many of the problems the Stefflers, through the Tanner Steffler Foundation, hope to address. There are no addiction treatment beds in Huron County that could have helped Tanner. What resources there are often come with long wait lists.
Whether it’s access to services, education or trained professionals, Huron County is failing its residents. Tanner, says his parents, hoped to access counselling on multiple occasions. He reached out for help and no one reached back.
In a country that prides itself on leaving no one behind, stories like Tanner’s are simply unacceptable. Huron County isn’t full of bad apples. The lack of resources here has caused this situation.
There are many great things about living here, but when we come up short, we need to find a way to be better. Lives are at stake.