One of the most valuable life skills we can develop is that of problem solving. We will encounter problems for the rest of our lives. Whether at home, work or in the community, problems will arise. The ability to solve them is paramount to our physical and mental health. Personal problems, whether at home or work, are highly personal. That means the solutions are also personal. Community problems and solutions exist on a slightly different plane. They are personal, but involve aspects that we can’t always control. They take a concerted effort by the community to solve them, which makes community engagement key to community problems and solutions.
Let’s look at some ways we can foster an atmosphere of identifying community problems and coming up with sustainable solutions.
Identifying Community Problems and Solutions
Identifying local problems in the community where you live is the first step in solving them. There are all kinds of issues that affect those around us. Some are more detrimental than others.
Talking to those in our social circles is a good place to start. Chances are, you know someone who is affected by a prevalent community problem. If that doesn’t net you any results, expand your circle. If all else fails, do some research. You’ll undoubtedly find some very real problems that your community experiences.
Some Common Community Problems and Solutions
Some problems are more endemic to one community than they are to others. Coastal communities are far more likely than others to experience localized problems with rising sea levels. Communities in the desert southwest are more likely to deal with a lack of water than many others. It largely depends on where you live and work.
There are, however, some problems that are common no matter where you live. Let’s look at some of these common community problems and solutions to them.
Identifying local problems isn’t incredibly difficult, but it will require you to be vigilant about the needs in your community. What products or services are lacking in your community? Who needs the most help? Here are some examples to get you started.
Possibly the most prevalent and detrimental example of community problems is that of food insecurity. The USDA estimates that approximately 10.2% of our population experienced food insecurity issues at some point in 2021. Among families with children, that number is even higher, at about 12.5%. Food insecurity has a direct impact on physical and mental well-being, and is something that desperately needs to be addressed.
One of the major effects that can arise from food insecurity is obesity. It may seem counterintuitive, but there are links between the two. The fact that healthy foods are more expensive than unhealthy ones is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. For those who can’t afford a healthy diet, this is a major hurdle. The children of these families are disproportionately affected. A study published by the National Institute of Health found that children of low income families were 2.31 times more likely to be obese.
Food insecurity can show itself in many ways. None of them are healthy, either physically or mentally. By working together to lessen the impacts of food insecurity on our communities, we create happier and healthier members.
Another example of community needs that too often go unmet is access to the healthcare system. According to the CDC, roughly 9.7% of the US population didn’t have health insurance in 2020. That number represents a nationwide average and may be even higher in some communities. Not only that, but rural residents often have distinct barriers to healthcare in their communities. Here’s why.
A 2022 study examined the state of rural healthcare from 2017-2019. It found that people who live in the most rural communities have fewer healthcare facilities available to them than their metropolitan counterparts. It also found that those facilities were more likely to be understaffed. These are problems with serious ramifications. When we’ve got a health problem in the community where we live, the ripple effects reach us all.
A community problem that’s gotten a lot of attention lately is that of access to affordable housing. In fact, nearly half of respondents believed affordable housing was a major problem, according to a 2022 Pew Research poll. But how did we get here, and what can we do about it?
According to real estate analytics firm CoreLogic, investors bought up 28% of all single family homes in the first quarter of 2022. That statistic only exacerbated a problem that’s been brewing for over a decade. To make matters worse, inflation has left most people with less expendable income. How do we create affordable housing in a climate of high prices and shrinking bank accounts?
Much of the affordable housing shortage problem can be helped by solving problems in community involvement. By investing in our communities, we can assure that all members have a safe place to sleep each night. By finding out what those lacking affordable housing need, we can help bridge the gap. The first step to all this is to increase community involvement.
A community problem that affects all of us is the local crime rate. Whether we are a victim of crime or live with the fear that we may be, crime affects mental health. We can incarcerate those who commit crimes, but that doesn’t solve the underlying issues.
The broken windows theory revolves around the fact that visible signs of community decay lead to increased crime rates. Criminals who see graffiti, vandalism and other signs that no one is in charge are more apt to commit crimes. Based on this theory, New York City literally cleaned up the streets in the 1990s by scrubbing graffiti and arresting subway fare-beaters. Getting out and cleaning up our communities is a great way to reduce crime.
Community policing is another step in the right direction. One of the many benefits of community policing is that it connects members of the community. Police engage with community members and build relationships that drive personal accountability. That can reduce the occurrence of both low and high level crimes. It’s also the kind of thing we need if we want to effectively fight crime and improve community safety.
Understanding the problems with communities is only half the battle. We need to understand not only the drivers, but also the barriers to solutions. Maybe it’s something as simple as issues in community outreach. Maybe it’s something as complex as logistical issues in the food chain. If we can recognize what’s wrong and come up with sustainable solutions, we can lessen the negative impact on our communities and work for positive outcomes.
Teach Community Involvement at a Young Age
The most important solution is for the community to get accustomed to identifying and devising solutions to problems. If we want future generations to identify community problems and solutions, it’s important to teach them from a young age. Parents play an important role in teaching their children the value of making a contribution to society. If the schools do the same, our communities grow in empathy even more quickly. Schools, though, often need support in activating community involvement in their students.
If your local schools are unable to get students engaged in acts of civic engagement, they could use some help. Sponsoring an educational outreach program gives them the tools they need. Not only does it provide knowledgeable instructors, but it taps the school into community resources they may not know existed. Youth empowerment activities can get kids excited about contributing solutions to community problems.
Engage Students in Community Involvement Programs
The quickest way to identify community problems and solutions is to get involved in the community. When we interact with our neighbors, their ails become more apparent. Those interactions give us the insight we need to come up with creative solutions. They also make us want to help. When children interact with their neighbors in meaningful ways, it increases their drive to contribute to society.
Unfortunately, not all students have the opportunity to engage in community outreach and involvement programs. If there are no programs that are offered by local organizations, many students who want to help may not have the opportunity to get involved. Establishing outreach programs is an important way to empower youth to be a part of positive community outcomes.
Engaging community outreach experts is a great way to introduce a program into your local community. What is a community outreach expert? Outreach experts are familiar with engaging communities in meaningful ways that bring about involvement and excitement to solve problems. They can also provide you with civic engagement examples to jump-start a local program in schools. Engaging their help is the quickest way to create a local program to engage youth in getting involved in their community. NTC has over 40 years of community engagement expertise in empowering youth to make a difference in their communities.
Come Up with Creative Solutions
Once community problems are identified, the next step is coming up with creative solutions. The most effective way to get at how to solve community problems is to involve as many community members as possible. Finding creative ways to engage community members at all levels goes a long way to finding effective solutions to community problems. If only the same members of the community get involved in finding solutions, then problems continue to persist. Let’s take a look at the problem of food insecurity as an example.
Providing Access to Food
Whether the issue is a lack of funds or a lack of nearby supermarkets or a gap in obtaining usable life skills, providing access to food is essential in solving issues of food insecurity.
Identify Contributing Factors to Food Insecurity
- One contributing factor to food insecurity is a lack of funds or a living wage to afford enough food. How do we raise wages or help fill the gaps in accessing affordable food?
- Another reason for food insecurity is living in a food desert, which is an area with low access to healthy foods. How do we increase access to healthy foods?
- Another contributing factor to food insecurity involves a lack of knowledge of how to shop on a budget, or how to cook healthy meals. How do we help educate the community with these sustainable life skills?
Identify Possible Solutions
- Is there any way we can help increase local residents’ wages through outreach or legislation?
- Would a food drive or community feeding program in your neighborhood help those in need? If it’s at a local school, it can immediately benefit the children who suffer food insecurity at home.
- Little food shelves, like little libraries, can provide food to those who need it. Contributing what we can gives local residents a way to anonymously get much needed help.
- Community gardens are a great way to increase access to the fresh fruits and veggies that drive up food costs. They are also a great way to drive community engagement. Gardeners from around the neighborhood can meet and work together to make the community a better place.
- Can we set up financial literacy outreach or cooking classes to empower the community with sustainable life skills? Educating youth in these skills is an even more sustainable way to build healthy communities for years to come.
Community solutions to community problems will depend upon each individual community, and will rely upon strong community engagement from all levels of society to find effective solutions.
Putting Community Problems and Solutions Knowledge into Action
Now with this knowledge of examples of community problems and solutions, it’s time to act. Understanding community problems and solutions means little if we don’t do anything about them.
The first step is to identify which solutions you are able to be a part of. Community problems and solutions are important enough that we should use the best resources we’ve got. What are some issues in the community that your expertise could help in solving?
The second step is to identify ways you can help. Sponsoring a community outreach program in your local schools may be the best way to build sustainable solutions. By showing students the benefits of community outreach programs, we can create a generation who lives sustainably and helps others.