Friday, February 27, 2015

Why wait?

Everyone knows it.

We need to discover a radically different approach to attacking, beating back and at least managing poverty and its frightening growth in Dallas.

We don't need more data--data plays a key role, but we have more than enough for today. 

As Todd Williams noted at this week's COMMIT! Partnership festival, "we're not here to admire the size of the problem". . .  we know we have a problem already! 

What we need are solutions, hope and a plan to act. 

While our problems confront us with daunting complexities, pervasive affects and little sign of real progress (check this news report--listen past the weather update!), we must not back away from the challenge.  And, we must not settle for more talking, analyzing and reporting. 

The time has come for action.

So today, I'm in a "what if" mood as I consider the more than rapid growth of poverty in my hometown.

What if. . .

. . .we decided as a city to get dead serious about poverty in Dallas? You know, the kind of "serious" that puts poverty reduction on the agenda of every single Dallas City Council meeting and in the economic development strategy of the City Manager?  The level of commitment that served as a formula for settling disputes at City Hall about where to allocate limited resources? 

. . .we identified one public elementary school, possibly with a focus on one grade/class within that school? Or, if we could muster the courage, take on all the families represented by students on the target campus?

. . .we enrolled a cohort of families to participate in our 3-5 year process?

. . .we laid out cohort requirements in a membership contract for parents to sign on to (things like regular meetings, coaching, financial literacy, Safe Conversations about marriage and family, health and wellness screenings, life plan development, imagination trips/tours, etc.)?

. . .we recruited another cohort of resource partners who would sign on to target our family cohort with benefits and savings (I'm thinking of the principal and staff at the chosen DISD elementary school, folks from Health and Human Services, staff and leaders at the City of Dallas, major corporations, all public utilities, at least one serious bank partner, Dallas County, Parkland Health and Hospital System, expert but wide-ranging non-profit organizations, faith communities and others)?

. . .we located as many resources for the cohort as possible inside the target public school, transforming the school into a beehive-active community center?  Included would be mentors, reading partners and many other expressions of the smart, effective volunteer activities that have proven beneficial to schools, communities, families and children.

. . .we cut down on as much cash "outflow" as possible via free or near-free Internet/Wi-Fi access complete with computers or tablets, reducing all utility rates for the target cohort households, planning a monthly diet building exercise that would focus on both health and cost containment (via food pantries and the North Texas Food Bank, and lots of other creative cost reduction strategies we could begin to imagine together.

. . .we went to work providing aggressive, unrelenting counsel and action to increase cash and non-cash benefit flow into all of those who agree to join the cohort?  Here I have in mind a long list of resources that need to be obtained systematically as a part of enrolling in school and joining our cohort:  all HHS benefits, SNAP, CHIP, WIC, SSI/SSDI, Medicaid/Medicare/ACA, EITC, child care, child care tax credits, workforce training, AmeriCorps membership for some, home improvement subsidies/incentives, "school success" backpacks that took advantage of purchasing in bulk/coop style (uniforms, supplies, books, etc.).  This essential component would call for an up-front investment to staff the target school with the financial advisors/counselors needed to handle the enrollment and sustainability of the discovered resources.

. . .during or staged across the process, we invested a direct cash benefit into a savings/bank account for cohort members--parents and children (possibly with an Individual Development Account type asset) with the agreement that we could study the impact of this direct, hard investment on family stability, academic performance and overall well-being?

. . .we marshalled and focused the city's code enforcement assets to ensure that the area around the target school provided a clean, safe and livable environment, complete with well-maintained parks, sidewalks, streets and private properties?

. . .we informed and involved the Dallas Police Department in the project with community policing, "beat cops" and even mounted officers who were long on teaching children about equestrian skills, appreciating horses and even visiting the community's horse park? 

. . .we engaged a research partner to measure impact, document outcomes and advise us on program modifications for rolling out our successful pilot effort to another target school/neighborhood? 

. . .we proved to the inevitable naysayers the depth of our commitment by finding, raising and appropriating the on-going funds needed to achieve our objectives?

What if?

Overcoming poverty, or at least working together to see good people climb out of its depths, calls for hard-nosed, economic choices. 

Here's my hypothesis:  the cost to engage families in a "dispelling poverty cohort" will turn out to be an incredibly wise, smart and effective investment. 

Forget about our community values or the moral/ethical considerations. 

The effective ROI for the city, its neighborhoods, its schools and its social fabric would be beyond enormous.

In my view the successes realized in one neighborhood could lead to program expansion, as the early adopters of the approach actually could end up paying for the next steps in the effort.   Our research partner could document our progress for everyone to see and understand.

We know enough right now to act.

Why do we tarry?

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