Friday, August 30, 2013

Does poverty discriminate or do we?

Fifty years ago this week Dr. Martin Luther King gave his most famous speech - the “I have a dream” speech. Most people remember it for the stirring vision of freedom and equality for every American.

Wynton Marsalis points out, “How many of us today know that it was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? I sure didn't. And it is now clear that poor and working class citizens need to be an integral part of our economic system. This necessity transcends race. Race is a matter of physiology; discrimination is a matter of culture, and culture shapes public perception, which influences political action.”

When I read the comments on the Fox News website about the 50th anniversary of the speech, the first several I saw were about how many blacks are criminals or on welfare. To at least some of the public, crime, poverty and race all blur together.

Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at a 2010 Congressional briefing, that views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues.”

There is no question that poverty still disproportionately impacts non-whites in America. In 2010, 27% of blacks and Hispanics were below the poverty level versus 9% of whites and 12% of Asians.

As long as lawmakers share the perception by some of the public that poverty shows a character flaw, political action won’t be of much use in the fight to end poverty.

We’ll just have to keep trying to change those perceptions and striving to live up to Dr. King’s vision of freedom and equality. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Children Matter: Longing to be like everybody else

By Ryan Blake, Children’s Program Director

I think there is a direct correlation between poverty, homelessness and self-esteem. Many children are embarrassed to appear poor. That's why you'll see children receiving free school lunches with a nice outfit, expensive shoes, and a new cell phone. They want to look like the  middle class students.

Another example of students being embarrassed by their family’s financial situation is an unwillingness to be associated with Community LINC.

We have a Community LINC Teen Facebook page where teens can keep in touch with us. None of the teens have wanted to join the page, because they don’t want their friends to know they lived here.

I also noticed that sometimes the school bus lets out our children around the corner from our building. When I asked why they get dropped off over there, the kids told me they don’t want people to know where they live.

Self-esteem is a major topic that we talk about with our students. I want them to see a connection with making the right choices and feeling good about themselves.

A month ago I was teaching a class of 5th grade boys about self-esteem. When I asked the class if where you live affects your self-esteem, 10 year Jamal silenced the class with his answer.

Jamal said, "I think it’s harder for people who live in the hood to have high self-esteem”. He explained that “there are people doing drugs, hookers, and killing people, and tons of crime in the hood, it’s harder to be happy with so many negative things happening every day.” 
I asked them if it was true for the neighborhood where Community LINC is, and everyone agreed that this neighborhood isn’t that bad.  I questioned them about it, and they gave me an example of a pair of shoes a student was wearing. “See Robert’s Nikes… he can walk down the street with them on and not worry, if it was a bad neighborhood Robert could get beaten up for his shoes.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Stuff

By: Sara Barrett, Aftercare Case Manager
Three weeks in to Aftercare, I was excited to get to a particular home visit with a Community LINC client. She had received furniture to fill her home, due to a referral made to a partnering agency to fill this need. Feeling great about the fact that she had all of the material things that seemed necessary to make a home a home, and excited to celebrate this with her, I was greeted by a home in disarray and an upset, overwhelmed young mom.
Furniture was all over the living room and the kitchen was stacked to the top cabinets with cooking necessities. My client burst into tears and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do this in my own place.”
When I asked her what she meant, she went on to explain, this was her first experience living in her own home and owning all the furniture and materials one might put in a home.
She had spent the week trying to get the home ready for my arrival of our hour long home visit, hoping I would be impressed that she had put a whole home together, but grew stressed and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for so much. She said, “Is this what it’s like to be not homeless? Why do people think all this stuff is what creates happiness? Why did I think that?”
My heart sank, and I sat down on the couch, which was halfway in the dining room and halfway in the kitchen. My client sat next to me and we made plan to get the home in order.
As we worked to put things in their “proper place” my mind swirled. What is my job here? What is happiness? What is success in this program? I had this idea of what it looked like to move from homelessness to self-sufficiency; what I as a “social worker” would call success, what a put-together home might look like; but I’m not here to make my ideas my client’s ideas. I was humbled by the power I have as a worker-that someone would spend a week in distress to impress me with the condition of her home. 
My client eventually settled in to the responsibility of caring for and seeing the benefit of having the material things she has in her home - a table to eat family dinners around, a couch to plop on with her kids and watch a movie or paint nails, and a full kitchen to prepare healthy meals for her family.
We laugh now when we talk about that day, but our conversation on this topic always ends with the idea that all the material things we have are just stuff.
Self-sufficiency is about more than the roof over our heads or the things we have in our home, it starts with the belief in one’s self that he or she can become self-sufficient; that one does have the ability to maintain a home and that this ability is valuable.
My job as the aftercare worker is to see the strengths in the clients I serve that can be cultivated into life skills, help the client see those for him or herself, and partner with them to develop those into what self-sufficiency looks like to them. If we can do that, all the other “stuff” will fall into place.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Program Matters: Are We Helping or Harming?

By Jeannine Short, Senior Director of Programs and Operations
As the face of homelessness continues to evolve from disheveled men sitting on street corners to entire families sleeping in cars; also evolving are the ways in which homeless services programs and systems are realigning delivery models aimed at housing the homeless more quickly, efficiently and effectively. 
Included in this realignment is the emerging “harm reduction” philosophy which focuses on the need for housing, rather than the reasons for homelessness (i.e. substance abuse, mental illness, etc.).  Too, it emphasizes the concept of screening homeless persons into programs, rather than screening them out.
While it is a reasonable assumption that social service practitioners would readily espouse these “housing first” philosophies, the challenge is shifting traditional mindsets which perpetuate the assumption that all homeless families and individuals must be made “housing ready” by “successful” participation in a myriad of interim supportive services.
While it is true that some would indeed benefit from such services, is it fair or even ethical to assume that one-size-fits-all?   

Monday, August 19, 2013

Therapy Matters: How much a parent means to a child

By a Children's Mental Wellness Therapist

One of our single mom's expressed her concern about her 6 year old daughter's poor behavior in school, her poor behaviors with other children and her struggles to take guidance and instruction from adults. 

One of our Children's Therapists began working with the little girl on behaviors to help her understand the importance and severity of bullying.  Because the little girl was receptive and seemed to enjoy working with the therapist, Mom observed a change in behavior at home and in school after only three sessions.  

The therapist helped Mom assist in changing her daughter's behavior by giving her a simple task - eating at the table for dinner to discussing the day's activities and using that time as bonding time.  

Mom had never done that before.  

After two weeks, Mom reported that sitting with her children to eat dinner was life changing.  

She said her children had never opened up to her in that way before, and they all were very talkative and extremely happy.  

The family now has established a ritual that no one eats unless everyone is at the table together.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jobs Matter: Barriers to ending homelessness

By Constance Taylor, Employment Services Job Coach

The U.S. economy lost nearly six million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Kansas City alone lost nearly 70,000 jobs since 2007. Government estimates show that from August 2010 to August 2011, only the Atlanta area lost more than the 120,000 jobs lost in the Kansas City area. Both on a numerical and percentage basis, the area ranks second worst among the 127 major U.S. cities where employment shrank over the year.

In such a competitive environment, the difficulties of job-seeking as a homeless person can be almost insurmountable barriers.

For those with limited skills or experience, there aren’t many opportunities to find a job that pays a living wage.

All segments of the homeless population, especially heads of family households, face significant and multiple barriers to employment. These barriers are personal, programmatic, and systemic.

People who are homeless often lack stress management, social interaction, independent living and vocational engagement skills, as well as a place to live and financial resources. On top of that, many members of the homeless population have to combat barriers, such as limited transportation and reduced access to educational and training programs.

The digital divide remains a deep void for homeless populations. Competing for jobs today requires some understanding of and competency in information technology. Lack of computer knowledge and fear of failure can prevent these populations from seeking to use computers available through public access. These limitations contribute to poor labor market outcomes for homeless people.

To equip our formerly homeless clients to overcome their barriers, we provide job readiness classes and job coaching.  We work with each family to assess educational and vocational needs. And, we seek relationships with employers to establish a broad support system for the families we serve.

On the positive side, about 70% of adults are employed when they exit to their own homes. Less encouraging is that the average wage is $9.39 per hour. That’s an annual income of less than $20,000 a year.

Hopefully, the very low income population will soon share in the gradual improvement in the economy. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Families Matter: Putting her children first

By Frenchie Pulluaim, Family Coach

One of our past residents stopped by the office to say hello and thank Community LINC for all of the assistance and support we gave her family.  Shauna and her 3 sons found a permanent home back in 2011.

Shauna came to us with a lot of barriers. She had few skills and fewer resources. She was under employed and lived with family in between short stays in her own apartment. Although she worked, it wasn’t enough to afford housing and provide for her boys. 

Shauna was a victim of generational drug abuse. She was living with her mom and grandma who are both substance abusers. Their lifestyle and influence contributed to Shauna’s lack of motivation and unwillingness to address issues that were keeping her from becoming self-sufficient. 

Entering this program gave Shauna and her boys stability, and the support system to break a generational cycle. 

She was frustrated and it took her a while, but she found a part time job with the KC School district that eventually became full time.  Shauna paid $3031.33 in past debt and left the program with a savings of $1,212.86.  When she came to visit, she talked about continuing to rely on the budgeting skills she gained while in this program.

Today she is assistant manager in food Service at one of the public schools. She still needs a subsidy to provide a home for her boys, so her Section 8 voucher helps her afford a 4 bedroom home here in the inner city.  She also got all of her children situated in school and in programs they need to be successful.

Shauna calls back periodically with family issues - things that once would have stopped her in her tracks. But, today she is able to say no to her family and think about her children first.  She no longer feels the guilty for not providing for adult family members who continue their chaotic lives. 

I believe that Shauna succeeded because there was something inside her that wanted to succeed.  Lifestyle was the problem.

She was an enabler for her dysfunctional family because she couldn’t say no.  She no longer feels guilty, because she recognizes that her family didn’t cause her to become homeless, her inability to say no to them did. 

Now she understands that she is not responsible for solving her family’s problems. And, she is armed with resources (United Way 211), that they can use to address their own problems, if they choose.  She knows that she is in control of her life and the lives of her children. She has gained the skills to advocate for her family. She has learned that her primary responsibility is to her boys, and her extended family will change in their own time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Volunteers Matter: Youth Impacting Change

By Kate Nevins, Volunteer Coordinator

The Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) of Kansas City recently spent four days volunteering at Community LINC. While they were here, they set up two apartments for new families to move into, painted the hallway of one of our buildings, worked on beautifying the grounds, cleaned the Children’s Programming areas, washed windows, and got started digging and moving dirt to install a patio in between buildings 2 and 3.

Thanks to the youth of YVC, who chose to give back during their summer vacations!