The Weight Watcher’s Guide to Reducing Poverty

Weight Watchers has been around for over 50 years. While other dieting schemes have come and gone, the iconic symbol of successful weight loss remains. The company itself attributes that success to strength in numbers. It tells potential participants what they already know. Losing weight alone is no fun, and can be hard to stick with. It offers a group support solution – participants are “encouraged and inspired by people like you, losing weight together.”

The New England Journal of Medicine empirically established that social relationships have a powerful impact on weight gain. Researchers found that friends had the greatest impact on obesity and that the type of friendship made a difference.

It isn’t like we really needed a study. Just look around and you will see groups of people who are drawn together in common interests or goals. This is just as true for people in long term poverty. Researcher Reeta Wolfsohn calls this a poverty mindset. Someone with a poverty mindset lives life predominantly without any thoughts of change, of improvement or of creating a different or better future. Wolfsohn surmises that these families see an inherent message from the universe that this is as good as it gets: don’t ask for or expect more.

This does not happen only in the home. Schools in many inner-city neighborhoods are dead-ends. Instead of equipping poor children with the skills they need to escape poverty, bad schools lower their expectations and sink their hopes. Schools can be lifelines out of poverty, but they can also be lifeless houses of detention.

We learn from those around us, and children from families and schools where everyone seems stuck will absorb that belief system. If you grow up in a home where it is believed hard work will lead to a better life you see value in tackling formidable barriers. In contrast, people who have accepted they will always be poor feel it is a waste of energy. Although it is a negative influence it feels familiar and safe. People in poverty look at life as financially static.

If people surround themselves with others like them, and that affects their willingness to make changes, even positive ones, how can we help people see their potential and work to improve their lives?

The Family Independence Initiative project has done just that with its model to recruit working poor families and let them self-organize into peer support groups. After 22 years working in an anti-poverty agency Maurice Lim Miller, founder of the Family Independence Initiative, looked for a new way to generate greater self-sufficiency. Contending that no one gets out of poverty alone, Miller wanted to enroll families in groups so that they could turn to each other for help, instead of to a caseworker or a program.

In 2011 the New America Foundation published an article describing the Family Independence Initiative as “a nonprofit, community-based organization that is considered an on-the-ground social laboratory for new strategies to tackle poverty. At its core, the Family Independence Initiative approach is both radical and as old as our republic. Their philosophy is that low-income people can advance together if we re-ignite the resource sharing, mutual support, and role modeling that has historically helped immigrant families leave poverty behind. They model new policies that reward strength and initiative (as opposed to need) and are led by the families themselves, rather than programs or professional caseworkers.”

As part of the Family Independence Initiative, working poor families self-organize into peer support groups. They set personal goals for their families and obtain cash payments for reporting monthly progress. Small amounts of money can be earned when families report the actions they take. They receive about $25 to $30 in return for a range of about 50 actions they can document.

In designing the program Miller started with the question “What would the result be if families were … encouraged to turn to friends and social networks for help and direction?

FII tracked progress of participants across all study sites. Among the San Francisco cohort, the Family Independence Initiative reports that households
• increased their income by an average of 20 percent,
• half the school-age children improved their school performance,
• 3 out of 5 households reduced their debt, and
• 3 out of 4 increased their savings, from an average of $437 to $1,433

According to FII, families report that consistently charting their progress—and sharing that progress with the families in their monthly support group meetings—keeps them focused on making changes and moving forward.

The participating families can use their meetings and social network to help each other with overcoming barriers to their goals. After all, they are facing problems that they have faced individually. The difference is now they have formed relationships with others who are looking ahead and seeing hope for positive change. It turns the “poverty mindset” on its head among those who are working together.

Getting ahead in a world with growing inequality of opportunity and resources is formidable, and, like dieting, progress can be slow. The Family Independence Initiative shows participants there is strength in numbers. The participants surround themselves with believers that keep hope and success in sight.

| Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is your client part of the 85%?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

The wait for affordable housing is getting longer and longer…unless you are part of the 85%. In recent years HUD and state funding sources have shifted more of their investments to serve people who have been chronically homeless. These programs … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I stayed because I don’t want to be homeless

On September 17, 2013 domestic violence programs across the U.S. served 36,348 homeless victims in emergency shelters or transitional housing. On that same day 5,578 requests for housing assistance went unfilled as providers were maxed out on beds and vouchers.

That amounts to 41,926 people fleeing domestic violence in one day.  The number may be a little low because only 87% of domestic violence providers took part in the survey. Nor does it count people fleeing DV who were not seeking help from a provider.

So it’s fair to say a minimum of 41,926 people needed a safe place to stay that day.

Emergency shelters and Transitional Housing fill a need but only for a short time.  For many victims shelters are brief respites from the turmoil in their homes. Survivors of violence may be coping with depression, trauma, hopelessness and a belief they are worthless. Abusers build financial dependence as part of their hold. Healing emotionally and physically takes time. Building reliable income takes time.

Not surprising, few victims can move from their home or a shelter directly to affordable permanent housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recent issue of “Out of Reach 2014″ estimates that there are only 31 affordable apartments for every 100 very low income households.

Most financial support for affordable housing programs begins with HUD, and the agency has set aside money for programs that must serve the homeless. That’s where Rapid Rehousing comes in. As its name implies HUD has begun shifting resources to more homeless prevention and for those who do become homeless, more resources to shorten the length of homeless episodes. Years of research on best practices and outcomes led to revamped programs to end homelessness. The HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing) recognizes Rapid Rehousing as an effective approach to reducing homelessness.

Many affordable housing programs must be retooled to meet the HEARTH Act intent and its expected outcomes. Identifying who is “homeless” is one of those elements. Fortunately for victims and advocates looking for resources the HEARTH definition carves out a special recognition of their dilemma. The new definition states

“individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.”

Qualifying as homeless is the first step towards obtaining HUD assistance. And note that the definition does not refer to victims who have already fled domestic violence. It refers to those “attempting to flee.”

There are two primary sources of Rapid Rehousing assistance. The most significant resources (of which I am aware) come from HUD’s Continuum of Care program. Every community has a council to administer its Continuum of Care funds. The easiest way to find yours is to start at the top. HUD posts a map and index of local councils. Once you identify the lead agency you can begin making contacts about what funds are available in your community.

Your search should not stop there. Contact your city or county community development department and ask about the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG). Once the domain of emergency shelters HEARTH expanded the use of ESG. Now its funds can pay for rapid rehousing programs.

Because ESG can pay for Rapid Rehousing does not mean it has to pay for it. Advocates will have to do some homework to find out whether ESG money has been designated for Rapid Rehousing in their community. Identify your local ESG resources directly from the Continuum of Care. You can also check with your city or county community development office to find out if it has designated any funding for Rapid Rehousing.

Advocates and survivors should advocate for help from rapid rehousing programs with this understanding – it is designed to move families from homelessness to housing who need only a few months of help paying the rent. It varies from community to community but ultimately the survivor must be able to pick up and maintain the rent.

One more caveat – resources are limited in a time of extraordinary demand. So when you hear the words “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” remember the HEARTH Act clearly intends to help those who are fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence. For that we should be grateful.

Posted in homelessness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons Learned in a Homeless Shelter

Maryellen Hess:

There are so many truths here where do I begin with my comments? This blog points out a few of the realities of poverty. This is a complicated story though. In a country where we claim if people work hard they will get ahead we build higher walls for poor people. Qualify for food stamps? Not if you try to save any money. If you manage to save a whole $2,001 to buy a car you do not qualify for food stamps. Without a car you can only get jobs where the bus system will take you – if your community even has one.
This is just one more lesson about why people are entrenched in poverty.

Originally posted on TheoCult Collective:

Lessons Learned in a Homeless Shelter:
Middle Class Misunderstandings of Welfare, Poverty, and People

I grew up in the suburbs.  So suburban that I didn’t even know there was a difference between rural, urban, suburban.  I grew up in Orange County California (Lots of mullah).  Now I live in Lebanon, PA.  (How do you describe Lebanon, really?  It’s small urban city.  Surrounded by farmlands. Racially, it’s predominately White and Puerto Rican.  High unemployment rates and addiction (heroine and alcohol are the biggies in our town) are obvious – even just driving through the city.  Many here would be considered low income households that live on the margins.)

Before moving to Lebanon, I had never met anyone on food stamps.  And honestly I didn’t really think anything about “welfare,” per se.  But I got a lot of messages growing up about what that is…We don’t talk about that.  Some people…

View original 1,148 more words

Posted in homelessness | Leave a comment

Toronto homeless feel discriminated against by healthcare workers

Maryellen Hess:

I don’t doubt many homeless people are treated with disdain in health care facilities, just as they are treated with disdain in so many environments. Nevertheless there are many care health care givers who want to help the homeless as much as they can. Where they may fall short is in creating a treatment plan for the more typical patient – one with housing. We could say the typical care giver lacks “cultural competence” in adapting care to the reality of homelessness. Full care for them means making sure they have access to hot water and clean bandages for wound or incision care. Their assistants could create calendars to help a homeless person follow a regimen of medicines, Access to nutritious food in the hospital cafeteria seems reasonable for at least a short time to insure medicine can be taken with food. These are the steps that will truly separate rigid medical care from exemplary care. This would make the treatment more effective. Training care givers to create such medical plans could also be the bridge taking them from discrimination to empathy for those they serve in a field also known as the helping profession.

Originally posted on Global News:

TORONTO- A small park lies in the shadows at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.

“If you’re homeless they don’t want to deal with you. They just don’t seem to care,” said Mark as he motions with his hand towards the inner-city hospital steps away from where he stands in the middle of the park.

Mark is homeless, has been for several years. So are many of the other men lingering in the shade around him. He says all of them have been judged at some point by a doctor or nurse.

“You can’t smell like alcohol, you can’t be high, you can’t look homeless. If you look homeless you’re treated as homeless,” he said.

There is a high level of perceived discrimination among homeless adults when it comes to healthcare.

“Some told us they didn’t want to smile in front of a doctor because missing teeth is seen has…

View original 164 more words

Posted in homelessness | Leave a comment

When did Goliath become the hero?

David versus Goliath. Rooting for the underdog. Using jail to beat down the poor.

Wait. What was that last one? It is the growing phenomenon in America to use jail time and exorbitant fees to punish people for being poor.

The criminal justice system has always been significantly harder for the poor. They cannot afford powerful lawyers. They can’t even afford bail most of the time.

The system’s inequality starts at an even deeper level. It starts with the expectations police have when they patrol certain neighborhoods.

Police expect criminal behavior from black teens. Black teen in a white middle-class neighborhood? Must be casing the houses. Black teen in poor black neighborhood?  He has probably done something illegal. It is only a question of what he did. Adrenaline must run high among the police who patrol the low income minority neighborhoods, judging by their hair trigger reactions to the briefest encounters.

When was the last time we read a story of police killing a white teen when walking through the streets of a white, middle class neighborhood?

Then there is the inequity among who gets arrested and who does not. Data shows that drug use among teens of all races and socioeconomic status are similar. You would not guess that from the law enforcement responses.

Law enforcement and court fees are stretching the inequalities even farther. Remember the Miranda warning? During an arrest police are obligated to tell the arrestees they have the right to a public defender if they cannot afford counsel on their own. This provided low income people with some hope of a fair trial.  Now 43 states allow courts to charge the defendant for that public defender. All kinds of costs get passed on to defendants. Some states charge defendants for their arrest warrants. More than half of our states charge for room and board in jail. In Washington State people must pay a fee to have a jury. 

So these fees add up whether or not the defendant is even found guilty. For people barely surviving financially this just adds to their burdens. Courts may offer payment plans, complete with interest. And if they miss a payment? They end up in jail where they accrue more fines and fees. Low wage workers generally do not get many days off, especially paid days off. Missing a few days of work can cost them their jobs. Now the cost of a speeding ticket can turn an average worker into an unemployed ex-offender.

The fees are not about justice. They are about paying for expensive and overwhelmed courts and jails. Someone has to pay. But not to worry if you are the CEO of a large bank that deceived millions of homeowners.  You are safe from ever paying a penny.

It seems like Goliath is now the hero.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Unaccompanied immigrant children – not such a complicated issue after all.

American politics and media have lost all ability to define a problem and look for solutions. The surge in illegal border crossings by Central American children provides the perfect example. The emotion laden response to this phenomena makes the issue sound more confusing than it really is. A decision to invest in safe living conditions for the children does not mean America will give up on border security. It does not mean current illegal residents get a free pass to stay. No one is disputing they are coming here legally.

The debate is between people who want to follow a critical law and those who want to bypass it altogether. President George Bush promoted the particular law in question – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act. The act is named after a 19th Century British abolitionist for good reason. It was our humanitarian response to sex trafficking of children. The 2008 law ensured that children who came to the United States got a full immigration hearing instead of being turned away or sent back.

The hearing has a simple goal. It is used to determine if the immigrant has a valid claim for asylum.

Now this law has become inconvenient for people who want to expedite deportation proceedings for children crossing the border. Calling it a crisis (isn’t human trafficking a crisis?) the House Republicans proposed a bill changing the Wilberforce anti-trafficking law to make it easier to send the child immigrants home. It strips out the children’s rights to have a deportation hearing to determine refugee status.

Ironically President Bush signed the law the GOP now wants to eviscerate. More ironically the Department of Homeland Security Secretary has testified the children are in fact coming here to escape high levels of violence. Secretary Johnson told a Congressional subcommittee that “Conditions in Honduras are horrible”. He noted that the State Department warned U.S. citizens about “critically high” crime and violence there. “[It’s] the murder capital of the world.”

The Honduran and Salvadoran child migrants are from some of the most violent regions in those countries. San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the world’s murder capital, with a homicide rate of 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 driven by a surge in gang and drug trafficking violence. For the entire country Honduras’s murder rate was 90 per 100,000 in 2012, the highest in the world. In 2011, El Salvador was not far behind, at 70, ranking second in terms of homicides in Latin America then.

To put this in context consider that American’s murder rate is 4 per 100,000 people.


Johnson went on to testify that the law doesn’t allow the DHS Customs and Border Protection to summarily return these children to their homeland. Johnson said the law doesn’t allow him to do so. “The law requires that once a child is identified as unaccompanied, CBP has to give them to HHS and they do what’s in the best interest of the child. That is what the law passed by Congress requires.”

In other words, we cannot just overlook the Wilberforce anti-trafficking law.

An immediate deportation policy without the benefit of hearings contradicts other U.S. policies written to extend humanitarian protections. The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows qualified individuals from designated countries who are in the United States to stay here for a limited time period. A country may be designated for TPS by the Secretary of Homeland Security based on certain conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from being able to return safely, or in certain circumstances, the country’s government from being able to handle their return adequately.

When Secretary Johnson identified San Pedro Sula, Honduras as the murder capital of the world it is fair to say the Temporary Protected Status should apply to these children. News and research abounds showing that the Central American drug cartels are offering people an ugly choice: use drugs, carry drugs or die. This is the life some people want to shove children back into.

The U.S. prides itself on following the rule of law. That is a key feature of democracy. It holds itself out as a protector of human rights. That is why we have the Wilberforce law. The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services department has a process to ensure that immigrants can find safety here to escape violent conditions. T-Visas are issued to give sanctuary here for victims of human trafficking. U-Visas are for victims of domestic violence. Maybe we need D-Visas for victims of drug cartel violence.

Jordan has absorbed over 600,000 Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war, a number that exceeds 10% of its total population. Americans opposed to any compromise on immigration reform are grandstanding on caring for 50,000 children coming into a country of 300 million people. That is less than 2% of our population.

Congress has failed to act on immigration reform. It refuses to acknowledge that people want to come here because we brag about what a great nation we have. It refuses to accept the fact that we have many residents who do not have visas but they support our national economy.

Immigrant children as young as six years old are crossing our borders alone in pursuit of safety.  They come from places where drug cartels reign supreme. We have laws and protocols to determine whether they should be allowed to stay. All we have to do is follow them.

It’s really not that complicated.


Posted in homelessness | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments