Last night I got into a long conversation about how a person can thoroughly and sustainably be lifted out of poverty. If you’re poor and don’t happen to make a connection with someone willing and able to take you under their wing, offer you support and opportunities, it kind of seems like nothing short of a miracle can break you out of the cycle of poverty. No matter how much drive and determination you have, you’re living in a house of cards. One slip, one accident, one unfortunate circumstance can make the whole thing collapse.
I’ve been coming across more and more discussions about how, in order to break above the poverty line and stay there, it really does take a village. No initiative, program, organization can singularly make an impact beyond the individual level – not without massive collaboration across all sectors.
Two cities, Pheonix and Salt Lake City, have had remarkable success in eradicating homelessness among veterans. Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City says: “It took the whole community — state and local government, nonprofits and for-profit companies — to come together and work together in an unusually collaborative way and be singularly focused on ending homelessness.”
One strategy that’s proving instrumental in ending homelessness is called ”Housing First“- first identifying and focusing on the chronically homeless, and providing them with housing without requiring them to be sober or drug free. With the stability of a place to live, other issues like substance abuse, mental illness, and personal skills development can then be addressed and comprehensively worked on.
Turns out the Housing First approach is also cheaper for taxpayers than it is to leave the homeless on the streets.
61-year-old Lorenzo Vasquez of Minnesota is living in his own room in St. Paul for the first time in over 25 years. For him, the room at American House “is not only the end to homelessness but also a springboard to a new life and a steady job as a hairdresser.” Like in Arizona and Utah, Heading Home: Minnesota’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is being coordinated by 11 state agencies as well as other community stakeholders, to address the disconnects between programs – the cracks people too easily slip through.
As long as efforts don’t stop with the provision of housing, and continue on to work with the complex layers of issues that keep people in poverty, I’m feeling intrigued. Even hopeful. Something to keep an eye on…