Photograph by Macaulay Lerman
Audio by Vermont Folklife
1. "There were larger systems at play..." (1:15)
As a very young adult, right? Late teens, early twenties, it sort of seemed like this fascinating conspiracy theory, right? That we were, you know, being tricked into believing that how much money an individual or household had was based on their own merit. And, and having a lot of it meant that they had personal success, and not having a lot of it meant personal failure. And my work at the parent-child center doing home visiting and really sitting in the, the homes of people, most of whom, you know, 80% or so, actively experiencing poverty made it really, I think, clear that we weren't a meritocracy, that there were larger systems at play that were determining the fate of somebody's economic situation. And that seemed eye-opening. And I, I think that I really wanted to do this work both to alleviate the suffering that poverty causes, but to help people see that bigger picture, that it wasn't their own personal failure.
2. "I have personal views...and then I have professional perspectives..." (2:21)
I have personal views on this, and then I have professional perspectives on it. And sometimes it's really important to separate those. I think that one of the reasons why it's hard to talk about poverty is that it's big. It's a core piece of how I think our system worked. Really, without individuals who find themselves in experiences of poverty, we wouldn't have economic systems that would be able to produce profit. We need people who are willing to work for low wages because that is often the difference of where we get profit, right? Low expenses and then higher profit, and one expense is labor. And so the solutions to ending poverty really would involve dramatic restructuring of our American society and capitalism. And so, and those are strongholds. And I think we, what it's easier to sort of say, and this is the work of a community action agency, that we could, that the strategy that we have for ending poverty is, we'll take each of you individuals who have been unfortunate enough to find yourself in it and we'll fix you. You're what needs fixing, will connect you to the resources that fit you. And, and again, to really hold the blame on that individual level. And that's important work. But then sometimes I struggle with it because it often feels like if you're putting Band-Aids on something and sort of fixing it at that each individual level, you're allowing it to perpetuate and continue because it's not getting to the, the real triage point of forcing that larger change.
3. "People want to tell us the story..." (2:05)
People really want to give an explanation and a story behind what their request is. And sometimes that is really difficult and we have to be really mindful that we're sort of providing two services, because we could provide the service in 5 to 10 minutes, right? I can just answer your questions, I know. Or we can just fill out this form and we can, and there's people waiting--and I have seven other phone calls to make--. But they all take double to ten times longer than just the provision of service, because people want to tell us the story. And they need to justify it to us, but also, I think to themselves. And that is really hard, because having the internal, personal belief that it isn't this story that has justified their situation, but also knowing that a service that we can provide is hearing it and holding it and saying, you know, "Thank you for sharing that," and holding that trauma and holding the fear for them. And helping to make it make sense that they are deserving, and that this is warranted, and that people who have experienced those things, it makes sense that they need assistance. So and you asked before about how my working at a designated mental health agency for almost 20 years pulls into it. I think it's being trauma informed in that way, and giving people space to tell their stories and then giving them honor and respect in those stories. That's really them sharing sometimes like a deepest low or a deepest sadness in their lives and being grateful for the story that they've told.
4. "Let's just go with this week's pressing issues..." (1:45)
Let's just go with this week's pressing issues. We saw this week a big increase in people accessing our food shelf. And I, having bought groceries this week at the grocery store, can understand why. The rising food costs are really significant, and similarly rising fuel costs. I think that those are impactful on us all, but disproportionately impactful on people who have really fixed and very small incomes. And then we have a huge housing crisis. We have over 200 people enrolled in our coordinated entry system comprised of about 120 to 130 households at any given time. And I listed off all of these resources that we have to be able to pay for them to have security deposits and rental assistance. And those programs, we're not even spending them down. There's sort of money sitting there, and it's sitting there because we don't have homes for people to move into. We have ample funding and resources to be able to get them into them--they just don't exist. So I would say a lack of literally brick and mortar available homes, and the rising costs of rent, fuel for transportation and food are really pressing on those we serve.