Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Should moving out of public housing be the goal??

We've implemented a new strategy at our Roseland location. It's actually very exciting. As Central Dallas has grown, we have noticed new gaps in the system and things have been done to close those gaps...law firm, health clinic, health classes, jobs programs, technology center, housing for homeless, etc.

But in our attempt to fill in those gaps, the programs often grew out of the need we noticed, but didn't always grow as an extension of currently existing programs. Though we all see each other at monthly staff meetings, it hasn't been easy to form the connections that could bring us together in a way that makes the move from program to program seamless for our friends and neighbors accessing different services.

We wanted to find a way for parents enrolled in the After-School Academy to connect with our programs at the Roseland Community Center, our LAW Center, and our jobs program, if needed. So, we created Operation Family Fresh Start.

Of course, one of the focuses is outcomes. What is the ultimate goal for the children and the families? We looked at what families told us they wanted for themselves as well as thought about what funders want to see when they donate their money.

That part wasn't difficult. We came to the conclusion that both want the same thing...get off public assistance. Families tell us they don't want to live in public housing. They want to own their own home. They want to live in a better area for their kids. Funders want to see self-sufficient people who don't have to depend on government assistance.

I grew up in a good, conservative home. I was taught to raise my eyebrow at someone on government assistance. Though now that I know people on government assistance and have a much different perspective, I still find myself wanting people to do more to be self-sufficient.

However, the more I think about that, the more I question it. Maybe our goal should, instead, be to keep people on government assistance for at least a generation. Let me explain.

People on government assistance have a very small income. From the studies I've seen, most people in the areas I work make under $10,000/year. They make under $10,000/year because they don't have the education level, or maybe the job skills, to get a higher paying, salaried job. They grew up in neighborhoods that didn't have quality education systems. I would guess these parents are much like their children who we have in the After-School Academy...91% of the time, the kids had never been to the places we took them on field trips. Exposure to things outside of their small community, exposure to diversity, exposure to different career opportunities, etc. is limited.

We've had parents move out of the housing development where our After-School Academy (ASA) operates and they all say the same thing after they leave, "There aren't after-school programs in our new neighborhood to enroll my kids in!" or, sometimes they're available, but not affordable. Though they may have moved to a "nicer" neighborhood, their children are still not getting what they need.

Is moving out the goal?? Or should our goal be keeping families in public housing...keeping families enrolled in the ASA throughout their entire 16 years of school (including college)--exposing them to career opportunities, teaching them to properly greet others, creating field trip opportunities, walking along side parents to offer parenting information and best practices of how to keep your child and your family healthy??

It seems to me that the goal should be to keep families in the public housing where they are currently and build up the services around them to offer holistic opportunities for the entire family. By providing all of the supportive, educational, health, and spiritual services for a child's entire lifetime, when that child becomes an adult, he/she will be stronger, more knowledgeable, and more prepared. As a result, those children will not need government assistance or help from social service organizations.

Sixteen years may seem like a long time to keep people on public assistance, but we're kidding ourselves if we think that's too long. It happens anyway. The people who try to get off, often are forced to go back because of circumstances where they simply weren't prepared enough financially, educationally, or mentally, to handle the challenges associated with raising a family, working, and paying full bills.

If sixteen years can change the direction of all of the future generations of that one parent, hasn't the investment been worth it?
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