When homeless teenagers and young adults come to the KIC-IT drop-in center, even trained professionals and volunteers find it hard not to judge.
The kids coming to the organization have no permanent place to stay. Still, they often have cell phones, intricate piercings and other extravagant items.
The first instinct for officials is to chastise them for not saving their money or making a better choice of how to spend it. But poverty forces people to approach daily life differently, KIC-IT board president David Sever said.
“We don’t look at things the same way. When they get money, they spend it. They don’t save it,” he said. “It’s important not to judge them on that.”
These types of insights will be central a new initiative started by local homelessness advocates to help the community better understand the issues surrounding poverty.
Bridges Out of Poverty is a workshop digging into the sources and impact of poverty, including the hidden rules and norms that dictate social class. Sponsored by KIC-IT and Home Bank, the program will ideally give area leaders from all facets of the community the framework needed to start seriously addressing poverty.
Doing so starts with understanding the mindset of the people who need help most.
“You can see their perspective. You can look at situations through their lens, instead of your own,” said Kimberly Spurling, KIC-IT executive director and Franklin Community Schools community outreach coordinator. “We need people to become more educated about poverty and about homelessness, about the individuals we’re trying to serve. Without that, it’s a struggle to fill in the gaps that are out there.”
The workshop will be led by Philip E. DeVol, an author and consultant for aha! Process, an anti-poverty training company.
The workshop will be an all-day event, running from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 21. The first half of it will be lead by DeVol, who will distill the research done on poverty down into a foundation for local nonprofit agencies, government officials, police, school administrators and staff, church leaders and others who work with the poor.
The event is open to the public, and anyone who deals with poverty is encouraged to attend, Sever said.
The final portion of the workshop will be a collaboration and planning session, as the community discusses how to take this knowledge and best apply it to Johnson County, Sever said.
“He won’t tell us what to do, or how to do it. He’ll give us the information, and see if we want to do anything with it,” he said. “We’re hoping the whole county will take part, and new leaders will step up to help.”
Bridges Out of Poverty is based on a book of the same name written by DeVol, Terrie Dreussi-Smith and Ruby Payne, who have all worked on educating people how to relate to and work with the poor.
Payne has been a leader in understanding the mindset of economic classes and hurdles to overcoming poverty. She founded aha! Process to provide resources to communities throughout the country to help improve job retention rates, build a safety net infrastructure and support residents struggling in poverty.
In order to successfully reduce poverty, communities need to understand how those dealing with the issue think on a day-to-day basis, Sever said. Payne’s research has shown that people in poverty approach life in entirely different ways.
For example, the poor are more concerned about getting enough food to survive than taste, nutrition or appearance, Sever said.
Those in poverty are more focused on immediacy — using the money they do have to take care of needs right now — instead of saving or planning for the future.
“When we work with people, one of the reasons we get so frustrated is we’re not speaking the same language,” Sever said.
But Bridges Out of Poverty is not about teaching how to change the way the poor think, Spurling said.
“It’s not us trying to work with individuals in poverty and changing them to get where we’re at. It’s helping the people working with those in poverty to meet them where they’re at,” she said. “In order to truly be helpful to a individual, you have to understand where they’re coming from.”
The idea for a Bridges Out of Poverty initiative locally was driven by Home Bank. The company has been an active supporter of KIC-IT and homelessness efforts throughout Johnson County. The bank has spearheaded a Bridges Out of Poverty initiative in Morgan County, where Home Bank is headquartered, to address poverty.
Home Bank has its own program of contributing 10 percent of its net profits to agencies and programs to better the community, said Lisa Arnold, vice president and chief operating officer of Home Bank.
“Our board of directors felt that we needed to step up as a business in terms of taking some leadership to help solve some of the problems we were seeing in the community,” she said. “Poverty is a major issue for us.”
Officials were tipped off about Bridges Out of Poverty in 2012 and worked closely with Payne to establish it in Morgan County. About 125 people attended that initial session.
Out of that initiative, a wide net of social programs addressing the poor has grown. A Bridges Out of Poverty nonprofit organization has been founded to carry on the work.
One of the most successful efforts has been a series of group sessions offered to those in poverty, giving them the tools and strategy to work themselves out of their situation.
“Poverty is a major issue, but what has been most important is people are more aware of the issues and are talking about what we can do collaboratively to start to address the problems and work on the problems,” Arnold said.
The success of the initiative convinced Home Bank leaders to work to expand it to other counties, starting with Johnson County. Those already working on poverty issues were entirely on board with the approach.
“We like the term, ‘bridges out of poverty’ because it implies there are solutions, workable solutions,” Sever said. “It’s not just building a shelter, that bricks are the solution. Or just give them a job. There could be a lot of other things going on.”
The training can be beneficial to the success of not only those in poverty, but for businesses, schools and other community entities, Spurling said.
“Maybe someone isn’t coming into work, or had to quit their job. If they had someone with this kind of training, who could talk to them in a way to uncover barriers and obstacles that were going on, maybe there is a solution in there,” she said.
The hope is that Johnson County will form groups or sessions to approach the root causes of homelessness, much as Morgan and Putnam counties have done, Spurling said.
Officials with KIC-IT and the United Way-driven collaborative effort No Place to Call Home have worked to address the homeless issue and find the right path to ending it.
Bridges Out of Poverty is just one more step towards a comprehensive plan to attack it.
“We know it’s not an overnight project. It takes years,” Sever said.
Bridges Out of Poverty
When: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 21
Where: Franklin Community High School, 2600 Cumberland Drive
What: A learning and planning workshop addressing sources and impact of poverty on families and communities. The event will feature Philip E. DeVol, an author and speaker specializing in poverty issues.
Cost: $25 per person, includes lunch and materials
Who: Sponsored by KIC-IT and Home Bank
Who can come: The event is open to the public, and anyone who wants to learn more about poverty in the community.
Information and registration: KIC-IT.org or call (317) 412-4973.