Dems need to support their candidate regardless (otherwise you are assuring a Trump win)

I wrote the following comment on a progressive blog I follow. The comment speaks for itself.

I do enjoy reading your blog. As an independent voter who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive, it is good to get a lay of the land. As I share with my conservative friends, I don’t care if people are more conservative than me on issues or more progressive, let’s try to deal with facts to solve problems. Many moons ago, people ran on rhetoric, then set that aside and governed more off facts. Now, with 24×7 news and eternal campaigning, we are governing off rhetoric. That is sad and not good for our country.

What I am confused about on some of the comments is how in the world Joe Biden is remotely equated with the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime. Biden is far from perfect, but to be brutally honest with you so is Bernie. And, so am I. But, they both are good and decent people, which is a far cry from a president who thinks first of himself and his brand. Everything goes back to his fragile ego. Biden is not that, nor is Sanders.

I will vote for Bernie if he is the nominee, but that is looking as more of a long shot. I do prefer Biden, though, as it appears many of the Democrat voters do. I do wish Bernie would lay off the rigged against him stuff. The brutal truth is his votes are fewer than in 2016 and he is not garnering enough from all parts of the Democrat party. I recognize fully, this paragraph in particular, will cause consternation, but the facts are speaking for themselves.

I do like that Bernie is pushing for Biden to consider more of his perspective. I am all for the detailed exploration of ideas that Bernie and folks like Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have. I like the thought process.

As someone who has been involved in helping homeless working families climb ladders back to self-sustainable housing, we must push forward with at least living wages (although I really like Yang’s idea), we must have investment in communities that are disenfranchised, we must have access to healthcare (and yes we should explore Medicare for All in detail while we shore up the ACA in the interim), and we must encourage family planning, including access to birth control and education. There is a high correlation to poverty and larger family sizes. Most of our homeless clients are working mothers, the fastest growing segment of homeless people in the country.*

I am sorry to ramble. But, let me throw something out at you. If Biden is the nominee and you do not support him, four more years of Trump will lead to a 7-2 conservative supermajority on SCOTUS and more environmental degradation and climate change concerns. We will miss a huge window that AOC and Greta Thunberg (my hero) are rightfully concerned about.

To be brutally frank, equating Biden with Trump is not even close to being accurate. I am sorry you and others may not feel this way. I wish this old fart could convince you.

* Note: This footnote was not part of the comment. As someone who has been around charitable organizations, it is vital that we ask them to measure outcomes and report on their success to funders. To be frank, there are too many benevolent band-aids that do not solve the problems they are fighting. They put a band-aid on to provide temporary easing. The same holds true for some governmental programs. That is not altogether bad, but we need to address the needs.

While too many conservatives try to paint people being helped with a very minuscule few malingerers, we still need to try to use money wisely and get people back to self-sustainability. Help them climb a ladder, but they need to climb it. Now, there are some who will need more care than others. As I used to tell church and business groups, when you have met one homeless person, you have met one homeless person. There are many types of homeless people.

There is an excellent book by Bob Lupton called “Toxic Charity.” Lupton used to help Vietnam vets, but eventually moved in to live among people he was helping. His premise is charity should be reserved for emergencies. We should help people climb the ladder back to self-sufficiency. He is very big on food co-ops and consignment stores in neighborhoods with need versus giving out free things. This allows people to maintain their dignity as they get help. The books is worth the read.

Immortality is indeed possible

My mother passed away almost three years ago. Yet, she lives on. Not just in our memories, but in the donor rolls of way too many charities. Even though she never lived in my sister’s new residence, her address has been updated after my sister moved away from our mother’s home.

So, each week, my mother gets mail from three to five charities. My sister tried stopping a few, but they did not heed her request or changed the name to hers. There must be a quantity requirement for the lists. So, more trees suffer to send out something that will find the trash.

When my mother passed away, I went through her stuff and found about 5,000 pieces of mail requesting money. Often, I found twenty to thirty from the same entity, where my mother wrote “Consider later.” As my mother’s memory faded, this was her coping mechanism. Since some charities send pennies, nickels and dimes in the request, I think we accumulated about $2.50 in change from the stash.

I know charities need money, but is this the best path forward? There are many fine charities out there with good causes, but there are some that are not well run or whose cause is a band-aid not effectuating change. Plus, those that use professional fund raisers, ask them how much goes to the charity and how much goes to them. So, we should all check the charities out.

It is also interesting that my father who passed away thirteen years ago will get an occasional piece of mail requesting money. One surprise was my brother got one and he never lived in the house that my mother and father bought after the kids were raised.

Immortality is indeed possible. At least the nice part is the letter makes us think of mom.

 

Helping people climb a ladder – a perspective

The following is an edited version of a comment on Hugh Curtler’s (a retired college professor of philosophy) post regarding whether we should help people in need or let them fend for themselves. I provide a link below to his post. I am going to cite the work a charity I used to be a part of that builds off the book “Toxic Charity,” written by a minister who lived with the disenfranchised people he sought to help. His name is Robert Lupton.

Lupton’s thesis is simple: true charity should focus on emergency or short term needs. What he argued for to help others long term and we did (and still do) is help people climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. That should be the goal. An easy example is he would advocate for food and clothing co-ops rather than giving the food and clothes away. People love a bargain, so let them maintain their dignity while they get discounted help. This dignity thing is crucial – people would rather not have to ask for help.

Note, we cannot push people up the ladder. They must climb it.  A social worker I have advocated with used to say “we walk side by side with our clients.” The folks we helped are homeless working families. We had two keys – they received a subsidy for rent based on their ability to pay, but they had to plan, budget, get financially educated working with a social worker and attending required training programs. Our homeless clients had to be responsible for rent and utilities up to 30% of their income, which is threshold for housing risk. Another key is we measured success. Success to us is being housed on their own without help after two  years.

As a community and country, we need to better identify what we mean by success in our help for people in need. Also, are things like healthcare a right? Is food on the table a right? Is a roof over the head a right? What we need is better measurement of what we spend and how it helps. It actually is cheaper to provide housing to chronic homeless and partially-subsidized housing to those who are more acutely homeless (due to loss of job, reduction in hours,  loss of healthcare, problems with car, predatory lending on a car, etc.) than let them go to the ER or commit petty crimes and be jailed. People should know all homeless are not alike, so the remedies to help need to vary.

My former party likes to argue off the extreme anecdotes – the significant majority of people do not cheat the system, but the perceived thinking of such is much higher in Republican ranks. When I have spoken to church groups, chamber groups, rotary clubs, United Way campaigns, etc., I come across this bias which is firmly believed. Just last month, the US president announced curtailing a rule on food stamps which will put 3 million people at risk, as one man was able to purposefully game the system. Yes, there is a small percentage of folks that do that, but the significant majority do not.

What people like David Brooks, a conservative pundit, tout is a dialogue on what kind of country do we wish to be? Our economy is a fettered capitalist model, with socialist underpinnings to help people in need and keep people out of poverty. What is the right balance? Is it better to pay a much higher minimum wage or have a higher earned income tax credit, e.g. Is it better to have a Medicare for All system, subsidize those in need or have a free market system only? A factor in this decision is many employers now employ a larger part-time or contractual workforce (the gig economy) to forego having to provide benefits. This is especially true in retail and restaurant industries.

At the end of the day, Gandhi said it best – a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. With so great a disparity in the haves/ have nots in our country, I can tell you we are out of whack as our middle class has declined and far more of them fell into a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Ironically, even in the age of Trump promises, we have many people who do not realize they are voting against their economic interests. Doing away with the ACA and not expanding Medicaid are very harmful to rural areas, e.g.

So, I agree with Gandhi, Lupton, and Brooks that we need to help people, but decide what is the best way. We should measure things and adjust them when they get out of whack. It is hard to fix what you do not measure. The group I was involved with would alter its model, if the numbers showed less success than hoped. What I do know is over 80% of the people we helped are still housed on their own after two years of leaving the program. In other words, they live without a subsidy.

Finally, what we need most is for politicians to check their tribal egos at the door when they enter the room. Having been a member of both parties, each party has some good ideas, but both have some bad ones, too. I do not care what a person’s party preference is or if he or she is more conservative or liberal than me  (I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive), we need to use facts and data to make informed choices. And, continue to measure the results making modifications, if needed.

Dilemma

A disproportionate response

What does this mean you may be asking? It has a couple of contexts. When I first think of it, I usually think of well-meaning people who want to help someone in need. A church or employer group may adopt a family who is going without. This is not uncommon around the holidays. Unfortunately, what happens is the family is over-provided for stripping them of any dignity that remains. Plus, neighbors who are in a similar boat, may ask why them? This is one reason I do not care for the “move that bus” show where they over provide for a family.

This may sound callous, but it is an example of what is called “Toxic Charity” as defined by Robert Lupton. In his view, charity should be reserved for emergencies. We should be transacting with those in need to help them climb a ladder. If we over do, then the family’s dignity suffers. He likes to ask churches, “Is what you are doing more for you or the people you are helping? If it is the former, then you may want to rethink your outreach.”

A former executive director of a family homeless agency calls these exercises a “disproportionate response” to a crisis. He said we need to help people in a sustainable way. The goal is for you to help them stand on their own. That is the premise of the family homeless services agency I have the privilege to serve with on their Board. We do not want to do for our clients what they can do for themselves.

The other context is when controlling a hostile situation. We are beginning a discussion where police officers have on occasion used force when it was not needed or when the crime they were apprehending the suspect for was not that serious. Recognizing the tough job they have, police officers need to be trained and retrained on the art of handling delicate and difficult situations. The predisposition to act with violence needs to be managed, so that it is not used as often as it is with men of color or in less strenuous situations.

Yet, part of the issue is using an aggressive manner to apprehend a suspect of a petty crime. There is a disproportionate response when a violent apprehension is deployed with someone over a petty crime. This is akin to chasing a runaway vehicle through traffic endangering others drivers and pedestrians for running a stop sign. The safest response for the community would be to forego the chase. This has to be part of the new paradigm where training can keep officers alert, but not predisposed to act with violence. There should be a difference when apprehending someone suspected of a burglary or murder versus someone selling illegal contraband like cigarettes.

We need to approach situations with an appropriate response. Some folks will say that a suspect who is gunned down is justified if they committed any crime. I find fault with that. Someone should not be killed for stealing candy.  Further, a child with a pellet gun should not be gunned down in less than ten seconds, when a man with a rifle threatening violence is talked out of it, as he is white and the child was black. The other key question is should someone shoot to kill every one? What happened to shooting to wound? I know in the movies they do this to keep a clean end to a story and to punish very bad people that we can see as bad through our omnipotent viewing. Yet, this should not be the case in real life as much as it is.

I recognize these contexts are very different, but I believe we should be thinking and planning how we should respond to various issues, whether they be someone in need or someone who needs to be apprehended. We need to be more proportionate in our responses. More people may be saved as a result.

The Anti-Charity Charity

In his book “Toxic Charity,” Bob Lupton writes from experience that charity should be reserved for true emergencies*.  When a person loses his home (or is about to) due to sudden natural or economic causes, then people stepping in to help is definitely in order. Yet, after the emergency subsides, the more efficacious way to help people should change. We definitely should help people, but do our best not to do for them what they can do themselves.

I am involved as a volunteer with an agency that helps homeless families. We believe in empowering our homeless families—working in partnership with them to secure safe and stable housing and to create lasting change. These are things we know are necessary to break the cycle of generational poverty and become self-sufficient. When families have permanent housing, strong personal relationships and motivation to change, families will have the best chance to move out of a life of poverty and into a life of self-sufficiency.

Our families are working families—people you meet when you go to your doctor’s office or your child’s school, etc. Many have lost their homes due to a reduction in work hours, a medical crisis, domestic violence or some other financial or social setback. Our families were living paycheck to paycheck and with one small change, their world was turned upside down.

To access the full support of our agency, our families have to do their part. Families attend classes to learn better budgeting and financial skills, and they meet weekly with a social worker who challenges and encourages them to make better decisions. Also, after saving for a down payment, they work with a housing specialist to obtain affordable permanent housing. Families also receive supportive services from volunteer mentoring teams, which we call “Hope Teams.” Our model is simple—to help homeless families help themselves.

To be the best stewards of our families, funders and volunteers, we constantly evaluate our model to ensure that we are creating lasting and permanent change in the lives of the families we serve. In our last fiscal year, 91% of our families were self-sufficient after completing the housing part of our program. And, we just completed an exhaustive measurement exercise to learn that 88% of the families that exited our program into housing have sustained their housing on their own after three, six, twelve and twenty-four months milestones.

Our staff and Board of Directors know this model serves our clients in a respectful and effective manner—and we have the outcomes to prove it. The key takeaways are to help people climb the ladder, but not climb it for them. And, entrust the people closest to the client figure out the how to tweak or improve the model. Finally, measure outcomes. It is important to use your funders’ dollars judiciously and your volunteers’ time and efforts wisely. This stewardship is essential to success for our families.

Who is learning from whom?

As Anna said in the “The King and I” a movie and play where an English tutor is engaged to teach the children of the King of Siam, “If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.” This is actually based on a true story of Anna Leonowns and King Mongkut, so the line has even more merit. I use this reference which I read this morning in a USA Weekend article called “Voluntary Volunteer” by Mo Rocca about this same theme. In the volunteer work with homeless families I have been blessed and privileged to do, one of our secret sauces to success is our Hope Teams which mentor the families.

I equate the two stories for the following reason. One of our requirements for our Hope Teams, which are almost entirely made up of the faith community, is to not witness to the families. You are witnessing by deed by trying to help, but cannot proselytize your faith to them as it can be off-putting. It did not take long for us to realize that the converse was occurring. Or, as our Executive Director used to say “Who is witnessing to whom?” The irony is these families who were forced into homelessness due to the loss of one of their jobs, reduced hours, healthcare crisis, car crisis, etc. held tightly to the only thing that could give them comfort – their faith.

Through this devotion in times of such great crisis and anguish, our faith community members would come away from the mentoring relationships with a renewed faith. They were learning from the people in need they were helping. I mention this as well, as there are some who believe that people are in trouble because they are less virtuous. Bob Lupton who wrote the book that all volunteers must read, “Toxic Charity,” lives among those he is trying to help. One of the key lessons Lupton shares is when one of those who had been helped lamented about a church bus coming to help do certain things. When Lupton asked why, the person said, please do not get me wrong. We greatly appreciate their help. Yet, I wish the helpers would ask us about our faith, so we can have a conversation around a mutual interest. He said some people with good hearts assume we are less pious because of our situation.

In the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us” by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, they address this misconception head on. The number one misconception about poverty is the following assertion – “poverty is the absence of money.” It is no more or less. West and Smiley define it this way to get away from a belief of poverty being due to less virtue. When people spend time helping those in need, the helpers come away with the learning that poverty has nothing to do with being less virtuous.

I took some time off between jobs last year and did some tutoring of two fifth graders. While tutoring them in math, I came away with as much as they hopefully did. They both were English-as-a-second language citizens who moved here from countries in Africa. One girl lived in-house with ten people and three generations. The other girl lived in a house with seven people and three generations. These two young girls had a heavy role in household chores, both cooking and cleaning, to help the breadwinners. So, imagine trying to study as a fith grader when you go home and have to work so hard beforehand. Also, the countries they left have issues still. So, the fact the girls made it here, gives them a much greater advantage over their former compatriots.

In addition to these learnings for me, I also came away with the following. These young girls wrote a brief letter to their school counselor asking for help as they were worried about the End of Grade exams. For those who have children, please reread the above sentence and remember the age of a fifth grade student. The school is teaching their students how to advocate for themselves in a civil manner. They do this with conflict among their peers as well. They could teach our leaders a few lessons about civil discussion and conflict resolution.

Let me close with the following observation. The psychic income of helping others is huge. If you help someone, you gain as much, sometimes more, than the person you help. You learn from them. Someone asked a popular DJ what was her greatest tip when she was delivering pizzas while in college? Without batting an eye, she said $2. When asked why, she said she delivered a pizza to a poor neighborhood and the young kids were so excited when she rang the doorbell. The mother explained we don’t have much, but once a month, we splurge on a pizza for the kids. When the future DJ tried to leave, the mother said, wait, let me give you your tip and gave the pizza person $2. When she tried to decline, the mother said, you work hard and I insist that you take this. Think about that for a while.