Forum Participants Speak on Eradicating Poverty and Inequality
“Poverty has a way of robbing your hopes and dreams,” said Linda Cliatt-Wayman, former principal of Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia, during A Wider Circle’s 2018 Forum on Ending Poverty.
The forum brought together experts from different backgrounds and varying professional experiences who share a common goal: to eradicate poverty.
Cliatt-Wayman emphasized what she called “the power of one” – how every person has the responsibility to help lift one person out of poverty.
She made this her mission at Strawberry Mansion, where 93 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Cliatt-Wayman spoke to the transformational power of education, and how she would motivate her students to achieve their goals by helping them to see life beyond their impoverished communities.
During her five-year tenure at the school, test scores rose, violent incidents decreased, and more students graduated – but she said she is most proud of instilling hope back in her students.
“The scars of living in poverty are long lasting,” Cliatt-Wayman said, adding that she and many of her students know the cycle can be broken.
Cliatt-Wayman was followed by Matt Pritchard, president and executive director of HomeStart, a service in Boston that works to prevent non-payment eviction and helps low-income individuals find affordable housing.
“Eviction isn’t one problem, it’s like 10 problems,” Pritchard said, noting that eviction can send a family spiraling into poverty. “A child without stable housing is 52 percent more likely to have developmental delays, 59 percent more likely to be hospitalized.”
HomeStart works to create a collaboration among the landlord, tenant, and a HomeStart advocate to stop eviction and preserve tenancy. HomeStart then makes a payment toward the back rent owed and stays in contact with the family over the next 12 months, helping them to identify services and resources to help sustain them in the long term – such as financial management services, cheaper childcare, and better paying jobs.
While evicting a family from their home costs the state about $10,000, it only costs $2,000 to prevent an eviction. Landlords pay into the service as an insurance to avoid evictions.
Pritchard said HomeStart has prevented over 2,000 evictions in Boston and is creating a model for statewide, and eventually nationwide, replication.
The forum concluded with a panel discussion on racial equality and economic opportunity between George Jones, CEO of Bread for the City and Leigh Tivol, vice president for strategy and engagement at Prosperity Now.
Jones, whose organization works to fight poverty in Washington, D.C., says he tries to get people working in social justice to talk about racial equity. “Equity is the way to equality. You get equality by making sure people equitably get what they need,” he said.
He noted that racial inequity isn’t about individual racism and doesn’t require anyone to be intentionally racist. It has more to do on whether policymakers are willing to risk their own privilege to make the changes to eliminate those disparities.
Tivol spoke on the subject of universal basic income. She said while there’s a lot to like about ensuring people have the resources they need, there’s a very real possibility of increasing inequity in the absence of a targeted approach.
Tivol also highlighted a recent analysis that shows the new tax bill disproportionately benefits white people and noted that if policies do not change, it will take 2,000 years for black households to reach the median wealth of white households.
Jones added that while he’s optimistic we can end poverty because we have the resources to do so now, what’s needed is a robust commitment to equity rather than applying “band aid” solutions.