What Do the Poor Need? Try Asking Them

by | Aug 9, 2015 | News, Systemic change

Invite all to tableUnder the title “What Do the Poor Need? Try Asking Them” David L. Kirp writes in the Sunday Review of a principle that is bedrock for the Vincentian Family approach to systemic change. Invite everyone to the table, especially those most affected!

He writes,

FOR decades, policy makers have treated poverty as a sign of helplessness and ineptitude. The worse off the neighborhood — the higher the rate of poverty, crime, and juvenile delinquency — the less influence it would have over its future. Social service agencies conducted “needs assessments” rather than asking residents what would strengthen their community. Government agencies or private entrepreneurs then delivered brick-and-mortar solutions — a new school, medical clinic or housing.

It seldom worked. Take Baltimore, which has been “renewed” again and again. Two decades ago, more than $130 million was poured into the neighborhood where the arrest of Freddie Gray sparked riots last spring. The vision was grand — more than a thousand homes were built or renovated; education and health services were introduced — but the jobs disappeared and the drug trade continued to flourish.

To improve poor neighborhoods, the people who live there must have a hand in deciding their own fate. That approach works well in Houston, where one program has enabled hundreds of thousands of poor residents, many of them immigrants, to move up the ladder of economic and educational opportunity each year. It’s a strategy that can — and should — be implemented nationwide.

After giving examples, the article concludes with what Vincentians know and believe…

Community development isn’t a quick fix. It’s hard work and it takes time. But what’s happening in Houston, Atlanta and elsewhere shows that it’s worth doing.