Thursday, June 23, 2011

Connecting Connections

A core element for Independent Living Centers (ILCs) is to foster the linkages that promote open communication and dialogue among staff and consumers. Despite all the differences in experience, we have considerable commonality in hope, fear, sickness, change, family and every other emotion and aspect of life. Our mission statement includes the bold belief that each person has “the basic human right of participating in society as a self-determining individual.”

You have the right to remain you.

We all must strive to connect with those who are isolated or otherwise limited in their ability to access information that can lead to choices and options that would have gone unknown. Every one of us without exception should be part of this effort.

The opportunity to share information that can enhance the lives of those we meet cannot be underestimated. Sometimes the setting can make the connection more meaningful. RCIL has hosted a “Community Forum for those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing” several times a year. It has helped create an environment conducive for this unique group to both converse with each other as well as to become aware of topics and ideas that might have otherwise been missed.

All of us should continually be alert to occasions formal and informal, individual and group, where new connections can be made. Some may grow into lasting relationships and others may be a one-time learning experience. Either way it’s  about passing on a chance for a more fulfilling life.

Keep connecting!

- Dave L.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Importance of Asset Development in Addressing Poverty

In general, poverty reduction strategies are typically categorized as income-focused or asset-focused.

Income-focused strategies for poverty alleviation have their origins in 20th century social policy. These strategies are geared to offering relief for emergent needs, and are often described as “emergency programs”. The purpose of such programs is to address basic needs. While important, these programs address the symptoms of poverty, and not the direct causes. Such programs do not give families or individuals an opportunity to change their circumstances; they simply help families to make ends meet.

Asset-focused poverty reduction strategies provide opportunities to build long-term wealth. Individuals and families with assets are more resilient, and can create sustained wealth to lift themselves from poverty or offer protection against economic decline. While assets allow families to remove themselves from the constant cycle of financial crisis, they also tend to promote a more positive and proactive orientation toward the future. Assets give opportunities for upward social mobility, allowing for more participation in the market economy (such as when buying a home, engaging in postsecondary education, or capitalizing a business).

While both strategies are important, existing poverty reduction methods are almost solely geared to income relief (food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are examples). This gives families some relief in their day-to-day lives, but does little to help their financial situation long-term. Asset-building opportunities would break this cycle by providing opportunities for building wealth and embarking on a path of self-sufficiency.

RCIL helps individuals to identify, apply for, and access income assistance programs they are eligible to receive. This can be thought of as poverty management assistance – it may help an emergent situation, but only until the next crisis occurs. To break this cycle RCIL has developed and advocated for programs focused on asset building. This approach is more transformational, and provides real opportunities to move from poverty.

Fundamental policy changes are needed to change from a system that manages poverty to one that eradicates it. The current programs and systems in place can provide some opportunities, but are clearly not enough.