Poverty Efforts Across the Region

Nate Dorr, Program Officer Grants 

Poverty is one of those huge, complex societal challenges.  It tends to be geographically localized, either by neighborhood or portions of a county (i.e. Mahnomen, Beltrami, and Clearwater counties).  

It is often generational. A child born into poverty is more likely to remain in poverty into adulthood.  Although it is pervasive across all ethnicities, people of color are more likely to be in poverty.  Philanthropic and nonprofit groups have often been called out for “admiring the problem” of poverty.  Even with all these government programs and nonprofits, what does it take to make even the smallest improvements in poverty data? 

Minnesota Compass data for our 12-county region shows an estimated 14.6% of the 170,450 people living in our region are at or below the Federal poverty line (estimated at 24,886 people).  This percent is above the Minnesota rate of 11.2% for the same time period, and an increase from northwest Minnesota’s rate of 11.5% in 2000.  

The income poverty line for 2016 is between $11,770 for a single person to $24,250 for a family of four.  Northwest Minnesota Foundation recently made grants to move the needle on reducing poverty.  Here you will get a glimpse into NMF’s Caring Communities Grant Program activities over the last few months.

The Minnesota Asset Building Coalition received an NMF grant to convene low-income individuals across the region.  Their guided conversations will inform policymakers locally and at the state capitol.  The group is struggling to narrow down to one issue because all the issues are important and interwoven. 

From their rural perspective; job creation, affordable housing, jobs and housing for felons, transportation, child care, youth support to succeed in school, cultural implications, mental health, and other public health issues are all at the top of the list.  This group will soon embark on a community survey to capture a larger community voice.  They will then deliver their message and solutions to policy makers.

NMF also recently funded a Bridges Out of Poverty effort in Park Rapids.  The school district and other partners had many meetings to find out how to match unemployed people with a large number of job openings.  From those discussions, they brought in a Ruby Payne-trained facilitator to develop a common platform for action.  Their hope is to move individuals from poverty to self-sufficiency, reduce the social costs of poverty, strengthen job skills and educational attainment, and improve on-the-job productivity.  Working groups are meeting to develop an action plan for the Park Rapids area.

Another community-based approach has grown roots in the Bemidji area.  Peacemaker Resources was granted funds to convene organizations and lead activities using a University of Washington Communities That Care model.  The model digs deeper into youth development and reducing risk factors for youth. 

Partner agencies like the Boys and Girls Club, the police and sheriff departments, tribal governments, schools, and mental health providers are opening lines of communication and brainstorming ways to collaborate.  Much of this work is to help youth cope with self-defeating behaviors that often undercut their ability to become self-sufficient adults.  Alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and other negative risk-taking behaviors can quickly derail student achievement and job prospects.

Asking, “How do we move the needle on poverty data?” is more than a rhetorical question. A correct response involves long-term commitment and strong partnerships.  Yes, individuals need self-sufficiency skills and dedication to make improvements in their lives.  And yes, government and nonprofit programs need to be more creative and responsive, and also need more funds to deliver services. 

Still, people facing poverty cannot afford adequate housing, reliable transportation, or quality childcare.  These are essential market barriers that inhibit a person’s ability to make improvements.  Because this is a complex issue, we begin by seeking to understand the stories of those in poverty.  From there, we can build ladders and bridges out of poverty.



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