Every once in a blue moon, I stumble upon a community of like-minded people who feel like lifelong friends from the moment we meet. That’s how I felt when I attended the Revolutionary Change Session hosted by POOR Magazine in San Francisco this past June. The weekend was truly transformative, and I’ve been blessed to continue building the relationships that started over that powerful weekend.
I’m writing this as a member of the Solidarity Family that’s committed to supporting POOR’s efforts. We converge by way of a conference call each month, email regularly, and I have Skyped several times with a longer-term member of the Solidarity Family who has served as something of a mentor to me.
In the course of our conversations, we’ve talked about how to get out the word about POOR’s innovative efforts to create an alternative to the poverty reduction models that treat poor people as if they have no wisdom and expertise about how to overcome their own challenges. It’s a difficult subject, but even the words “overcome their own challenges” hint at a paternalistic philanthropic attitude of “Here, if you’d only do things my way, you’d be so much better off.”
That sort of approach is elitist and often misses the point about why some people struggle with long-term poverty. The thing is, I’ve lived in poverty. Short-term situational poverty, but full of struggles nonetheless. My dearly departed mother often worked three or more jobs to make ends meet, and even then, there were times when our electricity got cut off. It’s hard to talk about even now because we closely guarded our financial situation from our surrounding community.
One thing I learned is that poverty can be incredibly isolating. People judge you all the time when you’re poor. They look at you as if you’re somehow less virtuous, as if you deserve your situation because you have failed. It’s incredibly humiliating. And it often happens in the places where people go to seek help, such as soup kitchens, welfare lines, and homeless shelters.
I’m fortunate to live in a town where the local soup kitchen is incredibly welcoming and non-judgmental, but I’ve been in a receiving line where the volunteers “serving” looked at me with condescending pity. If you’ve ever experienced that look, you know what I’m talking about: the “I’m so thankful I’m not you” look. The “I’m doing this so that I can be reminded that my life isn’t as bad as I thought” look. The “It’s a good thing I get to go home after this” look.
POOR challenges all of that because it’s led by people in poverty who are often busy worrying about how to get through the day and how to help others who are in a similar situation. It’s really powerful stuff. With every email message and phone call, I learn more about my own attitudes and limitations as I hear about the struggles that others are currently facing.
It’s because of those dialogs that I’m super-excited about a project called Homefulness that POOR has launched. Homefulness is a viable solution to the problem of homelessness, and although the current project is based in Oakland, California, I honestly believe that this model has the potential to transform communities all across the country. The thing that makes it work is that people in poverty are making decisions about what works for them, rather than having social service agencies tell them how to do things.
Homefulness sounds so appealing that I’m actually a bit envious that I won’t be living in that amazingly supportive and equality-centered community myself. The land has already been purchased, and pro bono architects and engineers have jumped onboard because of how exciting the project is. In other words, highly skilled experts have agreed to work for free because they believe in the power of this movement. The City of Oakland has been incredibly cooperative as the project has moved forward, and construction should start this next year. Even now, the land (which has already been purchased in full) is growing vegetables for a community-based garden. Really cool stuff.
I’d like to invite everyone who reads this to contribute to the fundraising effort that will bring Homefulness to fruition. There’s currently a challenge grant that will match dollar-for-dollar ever donation up to $35,000, and over $6,000 has already been raised. If you give $10, it will immediately multiply to become $20 thanks to the challenge grant.
You can support Homefulness through POOR Magazine’s website (if contributing via PayPal or check, be sure to put “Homefulness” in the memo in order to count toward the challenge grant) or with this Indiegogo campaign.
Oh, and I should mention that this project will be eco-conscious. In addition to renovating the existing structures on the property, several eco-friendly adobe homes will be constructed on-site, as well as a cafe, school, and office space. The goal is to use an alternative energy source for electricity, and the garden will make Homefulness even more self-sufficient.
If you believe in contributing to a project that will help people in poverty become less dependent on government and charitable assistance, now is the time to make a donation. Contrary to what the media tells us, the vast majority of people would prefer not to have to stand in line for food stamps and welfare. Homefulness is a model of how that can start to work, and I believe that other communities can learn from what POOR is doing.
The other thing that I value from POOR’s structure is the way that those of us with race and/or class privilege are reminded that we don’t have a monopoly on how to do things. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore the realities that most of the world is struggling to survive, and then when we do “help,” we want it to be on our own terms. POOR Magazine is also indeed an alternative media source, and the news reports aren’t always warm and fuzzy.
I’ve been thinking about how to present this fundraising initiative to family members, and I realize that some of the word choices and topics might make relatives feel uncomfortable. I think it’s good to feel uncomfortable because that’s how we grow. If we constantly live in a sheltered, protective state, we don’t have the opportunity to stretch our hearts and minds. This includes looking closely at the reality that many people are barely surviving, and considering how this impacts them. Not everything is going to be wrapped up in a pretty package and presented with a glossy-sheen, but that’s a good thing.
So I encourage you to check out POOR’s Homefulness campaign and support it. Also take the time to read and listen to the powerful stories of those who are involved in this movement. If we all join in together, recognizing that we have far more in common than we have differences, we can make this world a better place. And Homefulness is a great place to start.