June 18, 2021
“If society wants us to keep caring for others, it’s going to have to show a little more care for us.”— author Kate Washington. While these words were said in 2015 regarding women forced to provide health care to their families while also holding down a job and raising children, it is true now more than ever. During the pandemic, working women bore the brunt of the caretaking, childrearing, and remote learning supervision while poor women of color struggled to find the resources to pay for food, rent, clothing, internet access, and transportation.
That society also needs to provide more care for caretakers applies to the legions of people who have been addressing the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it is teachers trying to teach remotely, social service workers helping meet basic needs, or lawyers representing low-income people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic, we are exhausted. The stress of telling people who are desperate “no there is nothing we can do” has worn us down and feels especially insane when there is over $400 million is available to make landlords whole. However, to date the State has been able to distribute less than 3.5% of the funds. There is no reason for a single family to face the disruption and harm resulting from losing their home to eviction and no reason for society to incur the costs associated with evictions. Yet, we are forced to continue to tell our clients that there is often no help available. That there is no way to make the landlord accept money from UniteCT and to stop an eviction. That there is often nothing we can do.
Our feelings are often referred to as burnout. But burnout does not adequately convey what many of us are going through. You can be burned out on your workout routine and it will not affect your family. Feeling helpless and stressed because you cannot address the real and urgent needs of people who are seeking your help not only makes people feel ineffective at work but also affects the rest of their lives. Too many people who have been stalwart advocates and allies are emotionally exhausted and falling by the wayside even as others see hope.
Fortunately, we do not have to wait for society or the government to care for the caretakers. Social service agencies and the advocates who work with them can take care of their staff by providing more benefits: more time off, more flexible work hours, fewer mandatory meetings, reducing staff email, and even limiting the number of people served. A colleague recently told me he decided not to apply for new funding because his staff could not handle new tasks without causing additional stress and overwork. He chose to treat his program’s biggest financial investment, his staff, the way he treats other financial investments. Just as he would not overwork a printer or copy machine because it will breakdown, he is not overworking staff.
After 15 months of a 300% increase in the need for our services, the successful passage of a Right to Council in eviction cases, and the recognition that burnout puts our most valuable investment at risk, we are taking some time for rest. Staff will continue to work remotely which will give them more flexible hours. Please keep this in mind if there is a delayed response to your email, call, or request for assistance. Please provide care for the caretakers who have stood beside us and worked to ameliorate the effects of the pandemic and give them permission to take care of themselves.
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