One of the biggest barriers to the impoverished is a lack of support systems, which are “the friends, family, and backup resources that can be accessed in times of need.” There are seven different categories.
Typically, those living in poverty lack one or more of these support systems at one particular time. This may lead them to feel alone and hopeless, and sink them further into poverty. As professionals, we must work to create solid support systems for all clients, consumers, or patients by increasing resource referrals, following-up on the referrals, clearly outlining all options, and taking the time to connect with other people. Then, we will not only help people leave poverty, but also help them sustain a better life.
Chapter five of Bridges recognizes the need for role models and emotional resources in building bridges out of poverty. The analysis begins by distinguishing functional systems from dysfunctional systems. Functional systems are any system in which individuals have rules, roles, and relationships. An example of a functional system is a school system. The school has rules like “No talking while the teachers talking,” and “No sleeping in class.” The school has roles like teachers, students, and administrators. Lastly, the school has relationships like the student-teacher relationship and the classmate (friend-to-friend) relationship. Though the school system functions well for many students, for some it is quite dysfunctional, which is the extent to which an individual cannot get his or her needs met within the system. Those students often look to role models and emotional resources to help fill the gap in their needs and respond to the dysfunction.
Similarly, society is a dysfunctional system for those living in poverty, and impoverished individuals often rely on role models and emotions when dealing with society. We must remember that emotional responses dictate behavior and ultimately determine achievement. If someone’s emotional memory bank is overloaded with negative feelings towards society, then that individual is likely to behave in response to those emotions. In order to help people move out of poverty they must establish relationships with role models who can nurture their emotional development into positive emotional resources that elicit positive responses and encourage achievement. To do this, organizational leaders must always seek to become role models who can mentor and create positive relationships, everyone should teach and practice goal-setting, and everyone should teach and learn hidden class rules.
In the year 1971 within the folds of a Harlem ghetto, Claireece Precious Jones is born. Her father is a severe alcoholic, and her mother is trying her best to keep the family together. They live in a barely standing section 8 tenement where Claireece’s family has lived for years. As time passes the family’s situation worsens. Her dad drinks more. Her mom enters depression. At 12 years of age, Claireece is raped by her father and has a baby named Mongo who has Down syndrome. Still things get worse.
Four years later, Claireece is living on government assistance and obese at 16 years old because her family cannot afford to eat healthy. Again she is raped by her father and enters her second pregnancy causing her father to dessert her and her mom to pursue a better life. Claireece suffers from routine physical and emotional abuse from her mother who resents her and blames her for their circumstances. She is kicked out of her school, and unable to read or write she feels trapped in this horrible situation.
So what does Claireece do? What are her options? How does she find resources?
Chances are Claireece will not find any resources because more than likely she is unaware of the resources and social services that exist. She probably does not know who to ask for help. Chances are Claireece will not feel as though she has options. Her entire life is confined to just a few blocks. She probably does not know where else to go or what she would do when she got there. Chances are Claireece will remain in her situation, as bad as it may be, and continue the cycle of generational poverty.
You may recognize Claireece’s story from the 2009 film, Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Nevertheless, there are thousands of Claireece’s across the country trapped in generational poverty, looking and begging for a way out. It is up to us to help stop the cycle by starting right here in the East Texas community building bridges out of poverty.
Do you know where the free local medical clinics are located? Probably not, but a quick google search on your smart phone may tell you. Do you know what problems to look for in a used car? Probably not, but you will make sure your mechanic friend checks it out. Do you know how to keep your clothes from being stolen at the laundromat? Probably not, and you probably never will. Individuals living in poverty, however, do not have the luxury of not knowing the answers to these questions because they represent three situations crucial to the lower class. Chapter three of Bridges Out of Poverty, highlights these type of situations in its discussion of hidden class rules.
Bridges asserts that each social class has a set of unspoken rules specific to that group. In order to flourish or survive within that group, members must know and practice the hidden rules. Unfortunately, those living in poverty may not know the hidden rules of the middle or upper class, which may create barriers to sustainable living. For example, physically fighting or having someone who is willing to physically fight for you is more of a necessity within the lower class, whereas the ability to affectively use words to negotiate and handle situations is a necessity within the middle and upper classes. Consequently, someone who only knows the rules of the lower class may likely handle disagreements with coworkers in a completely different way than someone of another class. A different example is money management. Those in the lower class may be unaccustomed to having and therefore managing money. So if they acquire money, they may focus on short-term needs, like clothes, cars, and food. Whereas, someone in the middle or upper class, is likely to know more about money management. When these people acquire money, they are likely to balance between short-term and long-term needs, such as retirement, regular savings accounts, and investments.
What are some of the hidden class rules that you observed? What do you think is our role, as social service providers, employers, and community members? In order to build bridges out of poverty, we must build bridges that give people tools to understand and coexist with others in different social classes. Hidden class rules cannot continue to be barriers.
Imagine the frustration of living in a society that speaks a foreign language without the appropriate tools to learn the language. Most certainly, social, financial, or even spiritual progress would be a challenge. Americans living in poverty, especially generational poverty, tend to encounter similar frustrations in communicating, which often leads to barriers that prevent personal achievement.
Chapter Two of Bridges Out of Poverty discusses the role of language in poverty. It focuses on two of the registers of language: formal register and casual register. The formal register consists of “the standard syntax and word choice of work and school” that uses “complete sentences and specific word choice.” Whereas, the casual register consists of “language between friends and is characterized by a 400 to 800 word vocabulary.” The sentence syntax is often incomplete using general word choice and relies on non-verbal assists to make an assertion or tell a story. Research shows that individuals living in poverty commonly utilize the casual register and lack direct teaching in the formal register. Also, many of these individuals do not have a significant relationship with someone who is well-versed in the formal register, so even if they learned the formal register they would seldom use it and eventually forget how to use it.
Disconnect between these two registers leads to large language barriers that expand the gaps in society. Service providers may misunderstand the needs of an under resourced client. Students may perform lower on standardized tests, and have lower chances of entering higher education. Job seekers may be less likely to find career opportunities. We must consider the role language plays in poverty if we aim to build bridges to sustainable communities. Only then will we start to bridge the gaps.
It’s common to imagine poverty as the person holding a sign at the intersection or the person who refuses to work and sleeps under the bridge, because as most know, these persons do exist. However, those individuals make up only a small percentage of people living in poverty. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor reported at least 10 million people who worked but were still below the U.S. poverty line in the year 2011 (See also, How Expensive It Is To Be Poor, Charles Blow 2014). We must work to disregard stereotypes and accurately define poverty. Then, we may commence the necessary discussions needed to address it.
The Bridges Out of Poverty framework defines poverty as the “extent to which an individual does without resources.” Resources are not just financial. They include emotional needs, support systems, and coping strategies, as well as others. Resources are all the things that help individuals function in and contribute to their community. Anyone who lacks too many of these resources may live in poverty. Blaming individuals for their situations, while unaware of their resources, typically does more harm than good.
We as nonprofits, employers, and members of the community must work to provide resources for those in poverty who may live without. Giving them those extra tools; those resources, we will help bridge the poverty gap and build towards sustainable communities.
Entire communities of people live in a constant state of poverty while their neighboring communities enjoy abundant wealth. The communities are separated leaving gaps: gaps in wealth; gaps in education; and ultimately, gaps in life. The only way to retrench these gaps is to build bridges that traffic benefits for both communities. East Texas Human Needs Network is working to build these kind of bridges in the East Texas community, and the year 2015 will usher in these changes.
ETHNN is adopting the Bridges to Sustainable Communities framework for ending poverty in East Texas. The framework requires citizens, businesses, and governments all working together to create a community in which everyone has the opportunity to make livable wages, afford housing, and obtain help when needed. It begins with community professionals and leaders working to find solutions.
Follow this series of posts that will discuss the 15 topics outlined in Bridges Out of Poverty, co-authored by Ruby Payne, Philip DeVol, and Terie Smith. Learn about the benefits of building the aforementioned bridges and the strategies for building them. Also, comment to give feedback or suggestions, and always feel free to join ETHNN face-to-face the 2nd Monday of each month from 1-3 PM at the Salvation Army in Tyler, Texas.
Remember, together we can end poverty.