Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poverty in cities. Not much changed over past 25 years. Why?

"America's Cities are poorer, sicker, less educated, and more violent than at any time in my lifetime. The physical problems are obvious. The jobs have disappeared. A genuine depression has hit cities."

While this quote could have come from a newspaper story in 2014, it's actually from a commentary posted in a 1992 Chicago Tribune, written by Senator Bill Bradley.

One of the activities I've taken over the past 20 years is to build a library of stories from Chicago media which focus on cities, poverty, education and potential solutions. I've been scanning my articles into my computer for the past month, with a goal of trashing my hard copies (or finding a buyer or researcher who wants to take them). I need to cut costs since I continue to have trouble funding the work I do.

I've found a large number of articles talking about problems facing cities, caused by poverty and changes in the types of jobs that are available, and many of them call for a greater commitment.

This article ends with "We will loose our future unless urgency informs our action, passing the buck stops, scapegoating fails and excuses disappear."

We're now 23 years into that future and not much seems to have changed. I attended a Great Cities event at UIC more than 10 years ago, which was focused on poverty and one student raised the question, "This has been going on for over 20 years. Why has nothing changed." The speaker responded, "Because too few people care."

Dozens of articles that I've scanned, dating from 1990 through last year, such as this 1992 front page from the Chicago SunTimes, include this "call to action" yet too little consistent action seems to be taking place. I recognize that people have many issues more important to them than helping a city raise its children, but if America hopes to avoid some day becoming a country where those who have lost hope resort to terrorism to gain attention, it will be too late to reverse this.

As we celebrate National Mentoring Month again, I urge you to support well-organized, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs. I believe they are one strategy that enlarges the number of people "who care" by how they recruit people from beyond poverty and then support them as they grow their understanding.

This animation shows what I call a "service learning loop" where volunteers who get involved, grow their understanding, then enlist others to be involved, as they repeat their weekly and monthly contact with youth.

For their to be programs that provide this type of support, in every high poverty neighborhood of Chicago, it's suburbs, and other cities, volunteers, donors, business partners and policy makers need to find ways to offer consistent support, not just to one or two good programs, but to programs in every neighborhood so they all become good.

My list of Chicago area programs can be found at this link. The map based program locator that I created in 2004 and updated in 2008, is still available, but it's becoming more and more out of date since I've no funds to update the technology so it works smoothly, or to reach out to programs to assure that the directory is as comprehensive as possible.

If you, or your company value the information this offers to people in Chicago, and the model it provides to other cities, I urge you to become a partner, investor/sponsor so this resource stays freely available to Chicagoland.

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