Poverty cannot be effectively challenged without collective action of one kind or another.
This in one of the obvious reasons why some sort of public commitment, involving public funding, will always play an important role in improving life for the urban poor in the United States. Churches and charities simply cannot achieve the scale needed to deliver substantive change.
But, we live in a time of limited public commitment for these purposes.
One thing my work teaches me is that without power or funding, you are forced to adopt highly leveraged strategies.
Being poor as an urban housing developer, for instance, means that you are forced to accept higher interest rates, shorter and more onerous loan terms and more organizational encumberment just to keep advancing, usually extremely slowly and, you pray, surely toward your goal.
As the real life situations facing the urban poor grow more desperate and as the numbers of people continue to increase, you find yourself stretched out thinner and thinner--"leveraged to the max" and still trying to find more space for the creation of hope, the gaining of some small measure of traction into the next month or week or day!
The same issues face us when we turn to community health improvement, workforce training, public education, legal services and advocacy for a better way of life for a larger percentage of our friends.
At every turn, you find yourself holding on to what you have, no matter how meager, and attempting to connect that resource in hand to another that you can see in a new relationship, partner organization or unique opportunity. You keep believing that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
For the leveraged life and organization, the status quo is not only unacceptable, it is the greatest enemy you face.
"Oh, come now," it shouts out from the sideline in its cherished security, "you can't do it that way! It's never been done before. It's far too risky. It's just too complicated. You can't hold it together. After all, there are limits here."
I know there is a bit of truth and wisdom buried in that sentiment somewhere. I also know the rest of what's there needs to be kept far away from everyone serious about affecting real change in a city like Dallas, Texas.
Any special investors out there willing to join a new sort of partnership with and among the poor, while we keep working together for a new day of public commitment that surely will arrive eventually? Whether we ever do business together or not, we'd love to hear from you! We find encouraging in simply meeting believers.
Footnote: as our organization attempts to do more and to respond more effectively to the plight of the urban poor, we find ourselves able to identify much more clearly with our very low-income friends who understand the tough art of living highly "leveraged lives" with the little they actually possess.