Dispelling the Poverty Myth: Authors, program graduates talk about Bridges Out of Poverty

The 5th meeting of the Human Services Advocacy Network (HSAN) featured researcher Phil DeVol and former Ohio State Representative Gene Krebs. Together, they authored the book Bridges Across Every Divide: Policy and Practices to Reduce Poverty and Build Communities, a book that examines how to build public policy connectors to bring together policymakers, advocates and citizens across the political spectrum to form bridges to get people out of poverty.

The event was held last week at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries and was the most attended HSAN to date, with an audience consisting of leaders and advocates from both Northeast and Northwest Ohio.

'No one chooses to be poor. No one chooses to be in poverty.' A graduate of local Bridges Out of Poverty program explains at our HSAN event Click To Tweet

The book examines both the systemic issues that create barriers to escape poverty, and also tries to dispel the stereotypes associated with those in poverty. For example, in his remarks, DeVol spoke about how one woman described her day where she wakes up, concentrates on getting her kids ready for school, then tries to get to work, has to deal with car issues, figure out food for dinner that night, and so on and so forth. This constant cycle of stress contributes to the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty and the deterioration of physical and mental health over time.

This constant cycle of stress contributes to the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty and the deterioration of physical and mental health over time.

DeVol also gave an anecdotal example of what happens when a car breaks down. Individuals in the middle and upper-class would “call AAA” and/or take their car to a mechanic, but those who are in poverty, would “call Uncle Ray,” essentially utilizing local human resources in order to solve the problem. He added that this speaks to the resourcefulness of people who are in poverty, and their resolve to solve problems and find solutions. He also mentioned several examples from the book, where in other parts of the country public policy decisions, such as water billing, perpetuated the cycle of poverty instead of seeking methods to bring people out of it. He explained when many Americans interact with politics they face a false choice of individual choice versus systemic inequality. He instead argues that both affect the ability, or inability, for a person to escape from poverty. At the conclusion of his remarks, a local researcher from Case Western Reserve University gave testimony on how the Bridges approach is playing out locally. She brought up two individuals who described how they changed their approach to their individual circumstances and that changed the trajectories of their lives and careers. In a moving story, 18-year-old Angellina Irizarry, a graduate of a local Bridges program, described being the daughter of a single mother who had five children, and how her mother did as much as she could to support them growing up. She said, “no one chooses to be poor. No one chooses to be in poverty.” After her speech, Irizarry received a standing ovation from those in the audience, the first-ever standing ovation at an HSAN event.

No one chooses to be poor. No one chooses to be in poverty.

Next, was former state representative Gene Krebs. Krebs described how it is important to build bridges between advocates and citizens, but it’s equally important to build bridges and relationships with policymakers over time. Through a conversation with former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (and current CCS Board Member), he connected with DeVol and realized that it should be the utmost priority to see the Bridges approach be implemented across the state, across the country and around the world. The reason for that is that the workforce is rapidly changing, with automation replacing low-skilled factory jobs. The sooner individuals learn skills that will be highly valued, the sooner they can escape from poverty and gain the possibility of success in the future. Since then, DeVol and Krebs have traveled together to teach audiences how to effectively navigate the world of public policy in a time where politics seem to be as polarized as ever.

The event was also attended by current and former elected officials, individuals in both the public private and nonprofit sector, as well as individuals who have been involved in the issue of poverty for a long time, but may not know how their work fits into a larger puzzle. The next HSAN is August 10, where we will welcome Randy Cole, the Executive Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. We expect him to talk about the future of mobility and transportation, and how that will interact with health and human services moving forward. We hope to see you at that event.