Theologian Martin Niemöller wrote his landmark poem “First They Came” as a response to inaction by many Germans to the horrors committed during the Nazi regime.
The poem starts, “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist.” The narrator continues his silence for the same reason while the socialists, trade unionists and Jews are all singled out. Eventually, the narrator himself is targeted, at which point, “there was no one left to speak out for me.”
While the current economic crisis cannot be fairly compared to the evils of the Holocaust, Niemöller’s statement continues to ring true for our age. It is easy to remain comfortable as long as someone else is being affected. Indeed, for the initial stage of our current recession, many of us in Southwest Colorado were able to avoid the hurts of the economic meltdown.
Yet now, that same meltdown has come for us. We’ve seen it reported in massive cuts by the city of Durango and La Plata County. We’ve witnessed the steady increase of failing businesses and lost jobs. And although the signs of it are less obvious to the general public, it is being felt dramatically by our local businesses dedicated to human services.
Providing services for people with developmental disabilities has been a fiscal tightrope for many years for Community Connections. With the effects of Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, high labor costs and ever-increasing demands by governmental funders, the company entered this current crisis financially stable, but already operating under the most efficient means possible.
The bad news started rolling in last spring with cuts to the Supported Living Services program that enables people with disabilities to avoid more costly residential or institutional care. Then in July, case management funding was slashed, and on Oct. 1 the most tragic effect came with 2.5 percent cuts to fund the programs that support the most vulnerable adults in our community. The total loss for the 2010 fiscal year is estimated at well over $300,000.
Community Connections is responding the same way many agencies are, with furloughs for administrative staff, reduced benefits and intense assessments of each of its basic programs. Many of the people with developmental disabilities served by Community Connections rely on the agency for their most basic needs. Only so much can be cut without directly affecting their health and well-being.
Two things I know: One, more cuts are coming. Two, if there was ever a group of individuals who needed us to speak up for them, it is those individuals with significant disabilities who rely on the services provided by nonprofit agencies like Community Connections. While they may not be destined for concentration camps, the current financial climate revives the threat of the institutional system that plagued people with disabilities for too many years. Let us hope that we will speak out long before that occurs.
For more information, call Community Connections at 259-2464 or email cci@cci-colo
Tara Kiene is the director
of case management for Community Connections.