Inclusion and wellbeing go hand in hand. Human are inherently social and thrive in groups. That is, we have an innate need to belong, to be included. If you’ve ever felt a dent in your happiness and self-esteem when you weren’t invited to join a club or attend a party, you likely understand this. Now imagine being excluded from all kinds of activities, opportunities, resources, and places just because of who you are. Your race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, home ownership, refugee status….
This is social exclusion. Social exclusion does double damage. The excluded individual misses out on the benefit of acceptance in a community. And the society as a whole loses the benefit of that individual’s contribution. So while we are reflecting on our own social wellbeing, we might consider these 6 ways to aid those in need of inclusion.
Tip #77: End Social Exclusion
When Frances McDormand ended her 2018 Oscar speech with “two words: inclusion rider,” I had to Google it. Turns out, an inclusion rider is a clause actors add to their contracts to ensure diversity in casting and production staff. Such explicit clauses are necessary to ensure non-discrimination in diverse social sectors.
As much as we’d like to think that our society as progressed beyond Jim Crow-type discrimination, the reality is that minorities are still excluded from many areas of social life.
Do you think that social exclusion due to a person’s identity (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, age, etc) or situation (homelessness, immigrant/refugee status) is unjust? Then you can take action to make your communities more inclusive.
My own mom is a prime example. Years ago she spearheaded an Open and Affirming Task Force at church. This means welcoming previously excluded LGBT people into the congregation. The process was difficult and contentious, but the church eventually passed a non-discriminatory membership policy. As a result, more LGBT members as well as more African American ones, including a black pastor. Definitely a positive change for a previously all-white congregation in Detroit.
So while my mom was already benefiting from belonging to this community, she was able to enhance everyone’s experience by becoming aware of social exclusion and taking steps to end it.
Tip #78: Halt Human Trafficking
Human trafficking might seem like a strange subject to include in an article on social inclusion. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking refers to
recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.
Short version: modern slavery.
I confess to know little about human trafficking myself. But I think of it as perhaps the worst forms of social exclusion. Individuals are forcibly taken from their homes and treated not as humans at all, but as property. It goes without saying that trafficked individuals have no rights as a citizen in the new locale–they are effectively excluded.
Slavery was abolished once in the US, and while that didn’t result in instant social inclusion for the African slaves and their dependents, there is hope that modern slavery can be similarly dealt with through legislation.
If you’d like to know more about how to halt human trafficking, start with UNOCD’s response page.
Tip #79: Humanize Homelessness
Some of the most socially excluded folks are right under our noses, yet we often don’t even see them. I’m talking about people living on the streets and in shelters. In my town,, what to do about the “homeless problem” comes up frequently in city council meetings—especially around election time. The problem, as defined by downtown business owners, restaurateurs, and hoteliers, is that homelessness is bad for business. Unfortunately, their solution is to push individuals without housing to the outskirts of town, where they’ll be out of sight and out of mind.
The tendency to talk about the problem and not the person underscores what a stigma individuals without housing face. To restore human dignity to individuals experiencing homelessness, the National Alliance to End Homelessness calls for a community-wide, coordinated approach to delivering services, housing, and programs.
The solution, they say, is simple: rapid re-housing. For the most vulnerable, permanent supportive housing can provide vital stability. But we also need long-term strategies to help low-income earners to develop financial stability to keep them in their homes. This multi-pronged approach shifts attention to the problems faced by individuals without housing. Not the problems they create (real or imagined) for society.
Even if it’s not feasible to make campaigning to end homelessness a top priority, there’s still an easy action that will bring the focus back to human dignity. For example, the next time you pass an individual experiencing homelessness, just look him or her in the eye and say hello. Sometimes all any of us need is a simple acknowledgement that we exist.
Tip #80: Give to Group Homes
In our local grocery store, there’s a cadre of baggers with intellectual disabilities, often accompanied by a job coach. I love that they have this opportunity, and then I got to wondering if they got help at home. I wasn’t sure that a couple of them could manage totally on their own. And then I discovered Glennwood House. Glennwood House is a non-profit in my town that converted a nearby hotel into housing and supported living services to adults with developmental and/ or intellectual disabilities. Here’s how they describe themselves:
The purpose of this uniquely formed program was to provide a compassionate and caring environment that promotes increased self-esteem and assists the participant in developing daily living skills that enables them to live independently and live, work, and play in the local community. Glennwood is an amazing, vibrant, and diverse community with each individual supporting their peers, celebrating their differences, and embracing each other’s contributions.
I got to experience this community first hand with my local Master Gardener group. In early 2020, we volunteered to design and install vegetable gardens in the communal outdoor spaces. We considered so many factors that would let the gardens be accessible, engaging, calming, pleasing, and educational for a wide range of intellectual (and physical) abilities and social-emotional needs. Of course, we also considered residents’ favorite fruits and veg. Unfortunately, Covid-19 hit before we could get to the installation, but my heart warms to think of this delightful community.
Group homes that promote inclusion like Glennwood House do so much to improve the wellbeing of individuals and the wider community. If you find an opportunity to give back to them, you won’t regret it.
Tip #81: Campaign for Co-housing
While vulnerable populations like those experiencing homelessness can suffer greatly from social isolation, we are all susceptible. Part of the problem is that the design of our modern neighborhoods keeps us separated. To be clear, we have large houses on large properties laid out in grids rather than around a town square and situated far enough from shops and services that we need cars to reach them. In such a set up, we have little chance of community.
For an alternative that would foster social wellbeing, consider a cohousing community. These are intentional neighborhoods that bring together the value of private homes with the benefits of more sustainable, collaborative living. That means residents actively contribute to the design and operation of their neighborhoods and share common facilities and good relationships.
Even better, campaign to make co-housing affordable. This would allow individuals with a low or fixed income a chance to live in a more closely connected community. In particular, seniors would benefit from co-housing as they often suffer from isolation. All it takes is tuning in to what’s happening housing-wise in your town.
Tip #82: Resettle Refugees
Another population that suffers from social exclusion is refugees. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR),
68.5 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.
And within this vulnerable population, there are none more vulnerable than youth.
In 2017, the Trump administration halved the number of refugees permitted to enter the US and made it more difficult for refugee resettlement agencies to function. The easiest way to help is to donate money to an umbrella organization like Refugee Council USA. They redistributes funds to over 300 local and regional resettlement agencies based on need.
But it might be more gratifying to work directly with a local organization. To find one in your area, check out the public spreadsheetcreated by Sloan Davidson, a grad student and part-timer at the Refugee Council USA. The organization nearest me, World Relief Southern California, offers three engagement possibilities: 1) setting up refugee families in their new homes with “welcome kits;” 2) participating in the Little Brushstrokes program, which allows kids to express themselves and have fun with art; and 3) volunteering as a liaison to facilitate integration in the new community. Any action that helps individuals with refugee backgrounds to form social bonds will increase their sense of belonging and inclusion and thus their overall wellbeing.
The last round up of tips will be all about socializing more sustainably. See you then!