Get a Job?!?

I hadn’t before thought of welfare as a subsidy to low-wage employers.

politics of equality

The American demonization of public income assistance is both legendary and scientifically demonstrable. Survey research by political scientists has repeatedly shown that strong majorities of Americans favor “aid to the poor” while equally strong majorities disapprove of “welfare.” Powerful ideological encoding teaches generation after generation that “welfare” is a wasteful government giveaway to lazy moochers who ought to find jobs and work for a living. In reality, as a new study from UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education finds, 61% of Medicaid recipients are employed, as are 32% of those receiving temporary income assistance. This isn’t entirely a surprise. In 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility Act, requiring people receiving public assistance to be working or looking for work. What the 1996 law did not provide was any guarantee that real employment opportunities or living wages would be made available.

As working class wages stagnated…

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What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege

An excellent description and explanation about privilege. I have the hardest time talking to people about this without them getting defensive, and this is good. Especially these two lines: “But privilege talk is not intended to make a moral assessment or a moral claim about the privileged at all. It is about systemic imbalance.”
It is about a systemic imbalance. That’s it. What do you think? Are there discussions of privilege that you really like?

A Little More Sauce

The phrase “white privilege” is one that rubs a lot of white people the wrong way. It can trigger something in them that shuts down conversation or at least makes them very defensive. (Especially those who grew up relatively less privileged than other folks around them). And I’ve seen more than once where this happens and the next move in the conversation is for the person who brought up white privilege to say, “The reason you’re getting defensive is because you’re feeling the discomfort of having your privilege exposed.”

I’m sure that’s true sometimes. And I’m sure there are a lot of people, white and otherwise, who can attest to a kind of a-ha moment or paradigm shift where they “got” what privilege means and they did realize they had been getting defensive because they were uncomfortable at having their privilege exposed. But I would guess that more often than…

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Resurruction of Debtor’s Prisons

Here is a story about research done by NPR about the impact of court fees on poor people. I have seen this myself: someone is homeless and given a ticket for trespassing because they were sleeping behind a warehouse. They go to court, the case gets continued, they miss a court date, there’s a warrant out for their arrest. Maybe they get picked up, maybe not, but there’s another court date, maybe they make it maybe they don’t.

You can see how this would spiral quickly.

And with each of these warrants and court dates, there is a fee. A fee to meet with the parole officer. A fee to have a public defender.

And this is in every state in the U.S.

Peer to Peer lending and Big Banks

This article in the New York Times addresses peer-to-peer lending, something that traditional/larger banks have heretofore been outside of.  It’s a blessing and a curse to bring them in.

Missouri Medicaid expansion, otherwise known as “Screw You!”

I live in Illinois, just across the Mississippi river from Missouri. I was raised in St. Louis, and have lived my whole life in this region. I know it well.

Missouri is one of the states that “opted out” of the Medicaid expansion part of the  Affordable Care Act, and last month on the St. Louis Public radio, I heard a story about it. If you don’t have time to read or listen to it, I’ll highlight some of the more infuriating parts:

“Missouri’s Medicaid income limits are among the lowest in the nation: a family of three has to make less than $7,000 a year. And as in most states, unless they’re over 65 or disabled, adults with no children can’t get Medicaid at all, no matter how poor they are.”

I fell into that category in college. I had a qualifying disability but no children and two part-time jobs. I was actually made sicker by trying to take care of my health needs.

“In 2014, the federal health care act would expand Medicaid coverage to all adults making less than 133 percent of federal poverty limits. But some state government officials say that can’t happen here. “There is absolutely no way that Missouri can afford the Medicaid expansion,” according to the Lt. Governor. This is possibly because  “Medicaid expansion would add about 300,000 people to Missouri’s Medicaid rolls.”

That is a lot of people, yes, but what’s infuriating about this is that the federal government is paying for that expansion! They would pay 100% for the first three years, and then 90% after that. These costs to the fed would offset this cost by reducing the subsidy THEY ARE CURRENTLY GIVING to private hospitals for charity care for the uninsured. So this means that not only are Missouri hospitals losing an incentive to provide “charity care,” uninsured low-income Missourians (many of whom work) still can’t get Medicaid.

As much as I hate living in the ignored southern part of the great state of Chicago, I mean Illinois, I am glad that we have a large voting bloc in a big city, where more liberal folks tend to congregate. Missouri has no such metropolis.

If you’re poor and uninsured in Missouri:

Henri Nouwen on Poverty

This is beautiful and I think I’m going to share it with my clients.

Frustrated Farmgirl


Loving this from Henri Nouwen this morning.

There are many forms of poverty: economic poverty, physical poverty, emotional poverty, mental poverty, and spiritual poverty. As long as we relate primarily to each other’s wealth, health, stability, intelligence, and soul strength, we cannot develop true community. Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts. Community is the place where our poverty is acknowledged and accepted, not as something we have to learn to cope with as best as we can but as a true source of new life.

An appreciation for my own poverty has been powerful as I seek to engage in helping others out of poverty. It brings me to a place where I’m not coming to help with my own house completely in order. It brings me as a co-sojourner. It brings a humility that says “You and I are…

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3o-some Ways to help the homeless

I found this list on the “just give” website, and I think it’s fitting for this blog.  I’m thinking a lot about the homeless and how I came to work with them, and I’m listing some of them that I think are are especially true.

  1. Understand who the homeless are – Help dispel the stereotypes about the homeless. Learn about the different reasons for homelessness, and remember, every situation is unique.

This was a problem for me when I first started working with them. I thought they were out to get me, out to hurt me. I was very wrong. 

  1. Educate yourself about the homeless – A homeless person may be someone who lost their job, a runaway child, or someone with a mental illness. One of the first steps in helping people is to see them as individuals and to find out what they need. Notice them; talk to them. Most are starved for attention.

They’re easy to ignore, and many of them go out of their way to be invisible. 

  1. Respect the homeless as individuals – Give the homeless people the same courtesy and respect you would accord your friends, your family, your employer. Treat them as you would wish to be treated if you needed assistance.

They don’t always get kindness, but they give it a lot.

  1. Respond with kindness – We can make quite a difference in the lives of the homeless when we respond to them, rather than ignore or dismiss them. Try a kind word and a smile.

They identify themselves as “others,” as not belonging anywhere.

  1. Develop lists of shelters – Carry a card that lists local shelters so you can hand them out to the homeless. You can find shelters in your phone book.

When I get panhandled or stopped, I talk to people about coming to my agency or other soup kitchens.  If nothing else, I direct them to call 211. 211 is the United Way information and referral line – if you need a service, call 211 and they’ll tell you what’s in the area. 211.

  1. Bring food – It’s as simple as taking a few extra sandwiches when you go out. When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
  1. Give money – One of the most direct ways to aid the homeless is to give money. Donations to nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless go a long way.
  2. Give recyclables – In localities where there is a “bottle law,” collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often the only “job” available to the homeless. But it is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to the homeless instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection. If you live in a larger city, you may wish to leave your recyclables outside for the homeless to pick up — or give a bagful of cans to a homeless person in your neighborhood.

A lot of my guys do this.

  1. Donate clothing, a bag of groceries, toys
  1. Volunteer at a shelter, soup kitchen
  1. Volunteer your professional services

Work in IT? Help with computers for agencies. Good at writing? Volunteer to write grants for agencies. Good at accounting?  Volunteer to help finance department of shelter. Lawyers are always in need for legal concerns.  It’s hard for people to find a job when they have an old warrant on their record.

  1. Volunteer your hobbies – Every one of us has something we can give the homeless. Wherever our interests may lie — cooking, repairing, gardening, and photography — we can use them for the homeless. Through our hobbies, we can teach them useful skills, introduce them to new avocations and perhaps point them in a new direction.

I’ve been knitting and crocheting here at work, and it’s amazing how many of them comment on what I’m doing.  Maybe they’ve done it before, or loved ones have. It’s a neat way to interact with them.

  1. Volunteer for follow-up programs – Some homeless people, particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services need volunteers.

Living skills classes are SOOO beneficial.  I, personally, was lucky enough to grow up with parents who taught me how to interact with a bank and how to pay bills.  Some fundamental life skills that people were not taught, but they will need to remain off the streets.

  1. Volunteer at shelter or with children in a program
  1. Teach about the homeless – If you do volunteer work with the homeless, you can become an enthusiast and extend your enthusiasm to others. You can infect others with your own sense of devotion by writing letters to the editor of your local paper and by pressing housing issues at election time.

You can help reduce the prejudice against homeless people.

  1. Publish shelter information – Despite all of our efforts to spread the word about shelters, it is surprising how many people are unaware of their own local shelters. Contact your local newspapers, church or synagogue bulletins, or civic group’s newsletters about the possibility of running a weekly or monthly listing of area services available to the homeless. This could include each organization’s particular needs for volunteers, food, and other donations.

So many of my guys had no idea my agency existed. This will

  1. Educate your children about the homeless – Help your children to see the homeless as people. If you do volunteer work, take your sons and daughters along so they can meet with homeless people and see what can be done to help them. Volunteer as a family in a soup kitchen or shelter. Suggest that they sort through the toys, books, and clothes they no longer use and donate them to organizations that assist the poor.
  2. Sign up your company/school – Ask your company or school to host fund-raising events, such as raffles or craft sales and donate the proceeds to nonprofit organizations that aid the homeless. You can also ask your company or school to match whatever funds you and your co-workers or friends can raise to help the homeless.
  3. Recruit local business – One of the easiest ways to involve local businesses is to organize food and/or clothing drives. Contact local organizations to find out what is needed, approach local grocery or clothing shops about setting up containers on their premises in which people can drop off donations, ask local businesses to donate goods to the drive, and publicize the drive by placing announcements in local papers and on community bulletin boards and by posting signs and posters around your neighborhood.
  4. Create lists of needed donations – Call all the organizations in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization, along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may wish to help with donations — every place from religious centers to children’s organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
  5. Employ the homeless – Help Wanted – General Office Work. Welfare recipient, parolee, ex-addict OK. Good salary, benefits. Will train. That’s the way Wildcat Service Corporations Supported Work Program invites the “unemployable” to learn to work and the program works! More than half the people who sign on find permanent, well-paying jobs, often in maintenance, construction, clerical, or security work.
  6. Help the homeless apply for aid – Governmental aid is available for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how to apply. Since they don’t have a mailing address, governmental agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations, that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.
  7. Stand up for the civil rights of the homeless – In recent elections, for example, volunteers at shelters and elsewhere helped homeless people register to vote . . . even though they had “no fixed address” at the moment. Some officials would not permit citizens without a permanent address to vote.

Every year, I encourage my guys to vote.  They don’t realize they can.

  1. Join Habitat for Humanity – This Christian housing ministry builds houses for families in danger of becoming homeless. Volunteers from the community and Habitat homeowners erect the houses. Funding is through donations from churches, corporations, foundations, and individuals.
  2. Form a transitional housing program – One of the most potent homeless-prevention services a community can offer residents who are in danger of eviction is a transitional housing program. These programs help people hang on to their current residences or assist them in finding more affordable ones. The methods include steering people to appropriate social service and community agencies, helping them move out of shelters, and providing funds for rent, mortgage payments, and utilities. For information, contact the Homelessness Information Exchange at (202) 462-7551.
  3. Write to corporations – Some of the largest corporations in America have joined the battle for low-income housing. Through the use of the tax credit or by outright grants, they are participating with federal and state government, not-for-profit and community-based groups to build desperately needed housing in Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and dozens of other cities. Contact various organizations and ask them what they are doing.
  4. Contact your government representatives – Our legislators rarely receive more than three visits or ten letters about any subject. When the numbers exceed that amount, they sit up and take note. Personal visits are the most potent. Letters are next; telephone calls are third best. Housing issues don’t come up that often, so your public officials will listen.

Especially on topics like affordable housing and the Housing First model.

  1. Push for state homelessness prevention programs – While states routinely supply aid for the poor and homeless, many do not have programs provide funds and other services to those who will lose their homes in the immediate future unless something is done. Homelessness comes at great financial and human cost to the families who are evicted or foreclosed.

Let me know if these are helpful or if there are others that are good but not on this list!

I am in the process of applying for PhD programs, and while I was getting things ready for my Duke application, I came across an article on the Psychology Today website that was both disgusting and gratifying, in an odd way: It reported about and New York ad agency using homeless people being used as objects.



Great is our sin.

If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.  ~Charles Darwin

Five myths about the poor

There is an article a friend posted on Facebook that highlights five myths about the poor, and boy are they true.  I see this in my work, with my clients, and the research I read. The article mentioned these myths and explained and gave proof for them, so I won’t do that here, but I am adding my own thoughts given my own experience and observations.


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