Friday, January 25, 2013

Poverty in Detroit

At the non-profit I run, we have been fighting poverty programmatically for a very long time. For me, that is not enough. Working toward ending poverty systematically in Detroit is the main reason I am running for Mayor.  I would like to have the chance to change the systems that create/prolong/institute poverty in Detroit. Many of the steps to alleviate poverty systematically are already in my platform. They are basic things like job training, job creation, improving the educational system etc. Its not complicated, it doesn't need a big planning grant and twenty experts. Gracious. There is enough research about alleviating poverty. There are enough people here who work in shelters and at jobs programs who know what the people they serve need. Most importantly, the people who are economically disadvantaged themselves can tell the city what needs to be done. And no, its not impossible. Its just practical hard work, listening and forming solid relationships between separate institutions. Its just about making the systems that are already in place work and educating people to advocate for themselves through neighborhoods and easily accessible information about job programs, benefits etc. In each neighborhood, there will be a benefits advocate who will help people learn to advocate for themselves and then the advocates will take the knowledge they get from people in neighborhoods to the programs to improve them. Its about finding ways to coordinate services and finding ways to fund the services that people need that have been cut or are new. Here is a very clear explanation of the difference between alleviating poverty systematically versus programmatically from the Tamarack Institute, called A Compendium of  Poverty Reduction Strategies and Frameworks.

For example, children on Medicaid have eyeglass benefits, yet so many children do not get glasses. So here is a benefit that is given, but often unused. Why? 1. Parents don't know that the benefits are available. 2. There are few eyeglass shops in Detroit. Transportation is an issue, but Medicaid provides bus tickets or a pick up for people to get to their eye exam. Many people do not know this is a benefit they have. 3. There are mobile eyeglass shops that will come to schools and they take Medicaid.

Most days I volunteer in the middle of child poverty, at a school where many of the parents were themselves were denied the opportunity to succeed through a series of broken and corrupt systems. Poverty is something I have learned that I need to teach well off people about. If a person is not poor, or if they haven't been volunteering with people who are poor for a long time, they won't understand. It's not people's fault that they don't understand - they often don't step out of their own worlds to learn. When they do, I am so excited and love taking the time to educate them. I have seen very well off people be extremely compassionate toward economically disadvantaged people. I think that often they need guidance for what is really needed and I can provide that guidance.

I have been called a snob for the poor. I think this is because I grew up without much money but I grew up around some people with a lot of money and this was a good education for me. I know that once you hit a certain level of income, your basic needs are taken care of and you have some savings, the only thing in the way of your own happiness is what's inside your head and your heart. I think everyone has a right to reach that level and as Mayor of Detroit I would work towards that goal for Detroiters. The people who surpass that level who are not using that money to help other people, and instead just for power or to fill in some gaps in their hearts have some things to learn, especially if they come to my city. Happiness comes from being grateful and helping other people. I understand that some people may not have come to that understanding yet and try to fill the gaps in their heart with money, land, or...Belle Isle. However,  I believe that people like that should not be allowed to mistakenly take from the people who don't even have their basic needs filled. I am compassionate towards both ends of the economic spectrum.

For the people who come to Detroit to take from the economically disadvantaged, they will have the opportunity to meet with me and learn how they can become better people. I will be happy to make time to talk on behalf of many of children I have worked with who don't get presents on holidays, who come to school hungry, who live a life of eviction. I guarantee these takers will live with regret in their heart. When people steal from Detroit, they steal from many people who have been systematically at a great disadvantage. I will take the time to explain this. Whether it is stripping a house, getting a contract unethically, slipping some money in a pocket that isn't theirs at the City, these all contribute to Detroit poverty and I will find these people and make them not only pay for their crimes, but make them look at what kind of person they are. There will be the chance for redemption through balanced and restorative justice. Everyone, even people who steal from Detroit children, should have the chance to change to become better people. The magic of Detroit is that people here are kind and forgiving which has often worked toward people's disadvantage when facing a local government that is not kind to them. I would like to make the government in Detroit reflective of the kind and forgiving people, not a reflection of the people who have taken advantage of that.

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