Addressing Poverty with the aha! Process

Marianne Eichelberger, director of the Newton Public Library in Newton, Kansas, recently contacted the HHPTF about poverty-focused training programs created by aha! Process Inc. She writes:

Our community held the “Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals & Communities” seminar in March [2005], which was a definite aha! for most who attended. One board member and two Newton Public Library staff attended the seminar and [afterward] shared the concepts with NPL board and staff. The NPL board has encouraged NPL staff to continue “Bridges” coalition efforts with others in the community.

aha! Process was founded by Ruby K. Payne, best known for her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. The “Bridges” workshop is one of many products and services the organization offers, which it describes as

giv[ing] both the social service provider and the community member key lessons in dealing with individuals from poverty. Topics include increasing awareness of the differences in economic cultures, how those differences affect opportunities for success, developing an action plan to improve services to clients and improving retention rates for new hires from poverty.

Eichelberger has started discussions with other librarians in Kansas, and a flurry of activity followed the March workshop:

  • Two local residents were sponsored to attend an aha! Process “Train the Trainer” event.
  • NPL staff and a board rep attend monthly coalition meetings held to share ways of implementing “Bridges Out of Poverty” concepts and discussing what to do next.
  • A task force including alternative ed, United Way, SRS, mental health centers, and NPL reps worked with one of the local trainers to develop a pilot project based on “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World: Building Your Resources for a Better Life” workbook with the class session’s help at NPL during fall 2005.
  • Newton Unified School District held a two day “Bridges” in-service with every USD employee required to attend the first day. NPL staff and two board members also attended.
  • At least one more local resident is scheduled to attend another aha! “Train the Trainer” workshop this spring and plans are underway for another “Getting Ahead” class at NPL.

For more details about these programs, including contact info, visit and

Videoblog: Homeless in Texas

The HHPTF recently received a friendly note from Jack Lee, creator of the videoblog Homeless in Texas. The site features video clips and profiles of homeless individuals in the Austin area.

One of Lee’s earliest posts, with accompanying photo, reads as follows:

This is Jeff. He’s the first homeless person I’ve approached in Austin, and I asked him what his story was. On March 22 2003, Jeff was involved in a terrible motorcycle wreck. His wife was killed in the crash, and Jeff lost his leg. He told me that “the government is pissing him about with his money.” He told me he has two children to support, that are staying with relatives … He says he figures it’s better to beg than to go out stealing or robbing from people. “At least I’m asking for it,” he tells me. “It’s a shame that there’s all the heartless people in the world. If more people would reach out and help, there’d be a lot less killing, a lot less theft, a lot less starvation.” Jeff is a veteran, and is 49 years old.

In explaining his interest in reaching out to homeless people, Lee says,

Having suffered from post traumatic stress myself, I understand something of the awful fears that can beset a person just in everyday functioning and simple decision making. In the United States, many of these men we see on the streets have been traumatised by war, overwhelming personal, physical or emotional difficulties, or have simply been victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So many are mentally ill: not in some dramatic, bizarre way, but in a spirit wrecking, sad and depressed way …

I really do believe we should personalise the homeless. I want to document the stories behind the faces that we so often choose to not look into. I hope that’ll be one of the main functions of this blog: to help people see that there were once regular lives going on for the homeless, and that it’s really a case of “there but for the grace of God go I,” when we think more deeply about them.

More information about Jack Lee, including contact information, is available here.

Legal Needs of Low-Income People Not Being Met

Created by Congress in 1974, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) “seeks to ensure equal access to justice under the law for all Americans by providing civil legal assistance to those who otherwise would be unable to afford it.”

The LSC site features a directory of programs for people seeking legal aid and other useful resources.

In October 2005, the LSC published a report titled “Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans.”

It is clear from this research that at least 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are not being met. Moreover, 50 percent of the eligible people seeking assistance from LSC-funded programs in areas in which the programs provide service are being turned away for lack of program resources.

Although state and private support for legal assistance to the poor has increased in the last two decades, level (or declining after factoring in inflation) federal funding and an increased poverty population have served to increase the unmet demand … [I]t will take at least a five-fold funding increase to meet the documented need for legal assistance, and a doubling of LSC’s current funding of the basic field grant just to serve those currently requesting help.

The research analysis was completed shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf region, which greatly increased the number of U.S. citizens eligible for (and in desperate need of) legal assistance.

An overview and complete report are available in PDF.

Defining Poverty and Why It Matters for Children

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) provides a variety of fact sheets and stats on child poverty through its Family Income & Jobs initiative.

In order to provide our children with a fair start in life, CDF’s Family Income & Jobs Division creates and sustains American communities that work to strengthen every family’s capacity to provide for its children. The division supports parents in securing employment that pays livable wages and receiving education and training so they may compete for better jobs.

One brief but enlightening report, “Defining Poverty and Why It Matters for Children” (PDF), notes the following:

In 2003 social insurance and means-tested public benefits lifted 27 million people out of poverty, including 5 million children. Despite the noteworthy success of public benefit programs … unacceptable numbers of families and children remain in poverty and poverty rates in the United States exceed those of other wealthy industrialized nations …

A report by the Urban Institute found that if families with children had full access to government programs … poverty would decline by more than 20 percent, and extreme poverty would be reduced by 70 percent. Instead, millions of families with children eligible for these programs do not receive the benefits and continue to live in poverty.

The CDF site features a wealth of advocacy information and links, including a timeline of victories since it was founded in 1973.

Most Low-Income Parents Are Employed

A November 2005 report issued by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) notes that “the number of children in low-income families with working parents is increasing, but low wages and lack of benefits continue to limit progress toward economic self-sufficiency.”

Among other findings,

Most children in low-income families have parents who are employed full-time and year-round.

  • 55% of children in low-income families—14.9 million—have at least one parent who works full-time and year-round.

and …

Most low-income parents who did not work at all last year were either disabled or taking care of their families.

  • Almost half (46%) of low-income parents with no employment reported they were not working because they were taking care of their families.
  • An additional 30% of low-income parents with no employment reported they were not working because they had an illness or disability that kept them from working.

and …

Low-income parents who work are more likely to be employed in service occupations.

  • Workers in service occupations are not only likely to have lower earnings and fewer opportunities for full-time employment, but they are also less likely to receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, or holidays.

Another recent NCCP report, “Pathways to Early School Success: Helping the Most Vulnerable Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families,” highlights ten important strategies that communities can use to create positive outcomes for low-income families.

An executive summary and full report are available as PDFs.

The Isolation of Urban African Americans

Sociologist Rogelio Saenz has written a brief but eye-opening snapshot of life in the United States: “Beyond New Orleans: The Social and Economic Isolation of Urban African Americans.”

In large cities across the nation, African Americans are much more likely than whites to be living in communities that are geographically and economically isolated from the economic opportunities, services, and institutions that families need to succeed. These disparities have left African Americans disproportionately vulnerable to the next urban calamity, be it from terrorism or another natural disaster [like Hurricane Katrina].

The author prescribes specific strategies for fixing this disparity:

  • Skills-development, employment, and health-maintenance programs need to be targeted to and strengthened for African Americans.
  • Funding and access to education—including Head Start—should be increased for African Americans in order to bolster their social and economic well-being and competitiveness in the labor market.
  • Additional policies, resources, and investment are needed to promote the development and relocation of businesses (and thus jobs) to African American urban neighborhoods.
  • Government agencies responsible for responding to natural disasters need to factor into their planning the economic and geographic isolation of African Americans—especially the African American urban poor.

Where do libraries fit into this picture?

The Population Reference Bureau offers a variety of other poverty-focused reports.

Solving Poverty with Asset Policies

The Institute on Assets and Social Policy “is dedicated to the economic and social mobility of individuals and families, particularly those traditionally left out of the economic mainstream, and to the expansion of the middle class.”

While the United States is an affluent country, millions of individuals and working families are asset poor, a condition that limits their economic security and our prosperity as a nation. Assets are the financial and human capacities that enable individuals to enter into and stay in the economic mainstream.

The Institute works with a variety of partners and has recently published two important reports:

Innovative State Policies to Reduce Poverty and Expand the Middle Class” (PDF)

Across the nation, states with both abundant and lean fiscal resources, with urban and rural populations, and reflecting both liberal and conservative ideologies, are focusing their policies more and more on enabling residents to build educational and technical skills, an income base, and the financial wealth necessary for mobility and security.

and …

Minimum Wage: Creating an Asset Foundation

This report examines the significance of federal and state minimum wage laws, explores the impact of the minimum wage since its inception and the arguments for and against increases over time. This is the first of a series that will focus on the building blocks for an integrated asset policy framework emerging through state policies and practices that are advancing asset development at the state level and may drive change in federal policy.

The Institute’s Web site explains the asset policies framework and features state rankings, regular updates on recent initiatives, and more.

Homeless Youth: Resource Needs

The nonprofit Center for Impact Research (CIR) has published “Wherever I Can Lay My Head: Homeless Youth on Homelessness,” featuring an executive summary, a complete report, and a Homeless Youth Resource Directory.

The report “presents the data from CIR’s 2004 survey of 400 homeless youth to learn what the youth themselves identify as their needs, the resources available to them, and the ways that the various systems serving homeless youth might be improved.”

The study provides a good look at how homeless youth “get by” (or do not) and the variety of services that help them (or do not).

The finding of this study that merits particularly close attention is that there are particular groups of homeless youth who are at even greater risk than others because of their age, pregnant/parenting status, sexual orientation, or place of residence. Addressing the needs of these youth requires different outreach efforts and resources … New and expanded resources are necessary to help homeless youth become stable and safely housed and to prepare them for self‐sufficiency.

What can libraries do to help?

Other CIR publications are available here.

Library Service to the Homeless

The following resources are provided in conjunction with the Metropolitan Library System program “Library Service to the Homeless,” taking place today in Burr Ridge, Illinois. Featured speakers include Mary Minow, Tracie Hall, and others.

Please feel free to print and distribute this resource list.

Economic, Legal, and Human Rights Issues

Center for Law and Social Policy
CLASP’s mission is to improve the economic security, educational and workforce prospects, and family stability of low-income parents, children, and youth and to secure equal justice for all.

A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
Produced by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, this annual report examines specific city measures from 2005 that targeted homeless persons, such as laws that make it illegal to sleep, eat, or sit in public spaces.

Facts About Street Rights
This is a sample civil rights card provided to homeless people by advocates in Washington, D.C.

National Health Care for the Homeless Council
The NHCHC strives to bring about reform of the health care system to best serve the needs of people who are homeless, to work in alliance with others whose broader purpose is to eliminate homelessness, and to provide support to Council members.

Poverty Law Library
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
This site offers over 500,000 case pleadings and other documents, analytical articles from Clearinghouse Review, the premier journal on poverty law and policy, over 1,000 research links, and much more.

A Roof to Start With
Cities are moving homeless people straight from the street into permanent housing—no questions asked. It’s controversial, but it’s showing results.

Shame of the City: A Special Report on the Homeless
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan and photographer Brant Ward spent four months in the streets, parks and alleys with the homeless and those who deal with them. This site features a variety of related articles and themes.

Top 20 Meanest Cities
This list is compiled by the NCH as part of its annual report.

Local Statistics

American FactFinder
Use this U.S. Census Bureau tool to find stats on poverty in your community. Plug in location information and click “Go.” You’ll be presented with a Fact Sheet containing data on families and individuals living below the federal poverty line.

Poverty Guidelines, Research, and Measurement
U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services
This site features facts and FAQs, links to poverty research centers, and tips for finding answers to your questions.

Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
The U.S. Census Bureau’s SAIPE program provides more current estimates of selected income and poverty statistics than the most recent decennial census. The site features searchable data on school districts, counties, and states.

A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities” (December 2005)
The U.S. Conference of Mayors / Sodexho Inc.
For the past 21 years, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has reported on the shortage of emergency services – food, shelter, medical care, income assistance and energy assistance – in the nation’s cities. This report brings national attention to the factors that impact hunger and homelessness in metropolitan centers in the United States.

Selected Readings for Librarians

Sanford Berman. “Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People.”
Counterpoise 9, no. 3 (Summer 2005).
This is a copy of Berman’s address at ALA Annual 2005 for the Sixth Annual Dr. Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture Series.

Sanford Berman. “A Long Struggle to Force Libraries to Serve the Poor.”
Street Spirit (January 2001).

Ariel W. Collins. Bibliography on Library Services to Poor People (2002).
This browsable online bib contains 110 articles organized into five different categories—a great resource!

Counterpoise 9, no. 4 (Winter 2005).
Forthcoming poverty-themed issue.

John Gehner. “Poverty, Poor People, and Our Priorities.” Reference and User Services Quarterly 45, no. 2 (Winter 2005).

Julie Hersberger. “The Homeless and Information Needs and Services.”
Reference and User Services Quarterly 44, no. 3 (Spring 2005), 199-202.

“Perspectives: Library Services in Low-Income Urban Communities.”
Hampton (Skip) Auld, ed. Public Libraries (Nov/Dec 2005).
This report compiles case studies and firsthand experiences from eight different urban libraries.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook. “Ending the Isolation of Poor People.”
American Libraries 31 (May 2000): 45.
This special issue contains several essays on service to poor people.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook. “Poverty, Democracy and Public Libraries.” In Libraries & Democracy: The Cornerstones of Liberty. Nancy Kranich, ed. (Chicago: American Library Association Editions, 2001), 28-46.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook. LIS 5937 / Librarians and Human Rights: A Seminar.
School of Library and Information Science, University of South Florida.

Poor People and Library Services. Karen M. Venturella, ed. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998).
This book addresses the issues of ensuring access to information regardless of ability to pay and the practical means for meeting the needs of low income populations.

Social Exclusion and Libraries

While U.S. public libraries remain fixated on the issue of “odor,” libraries in England and elsewhere are creating new and novel programs to address “social exclusion.” This work is supported by government policy, public funding, and more than a decade of research.

Libraries and Community Cohesion
Authored by John Vincent for SEMLAC, this report “examines the social and national context, raises challenges, and offers ways for the library sector to move forward” on social exclusion.

The Network
This organization is a network of public libraries, museums, archives, other organizations, and individuals committed to tackling social exclusion.

New Directions in Social Policy: Communities and Inclusion Policy for Museums, Libraries, and Archives” (Word doc)
Published under the auspices of The Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council, this paper “explores the contribution museums, libraries and archives can make to neighbourhood renewal, community agendas, and social inclusion.”

Social Exclusion: The European Approach to Social Disadvantage” (PDF)
A useful primer, published by U.S. sociologists Hilary Silver and S.M. Miller in 2003.

Social Exclusion Unit
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
This government agency was established in 1997 to “create prosperous, inclusive and sustainable communities for the 21st century.”

Open Doors: Library Service to Excluded Groups

ALA Midwinter Meeting 2006 Announcement

Two ALA units are sponsoring an open discussion of library service to excluded groups, including low-income families and homeless people. Midwinter Meeting participants are invited to attend and to share program-planning ideas for the 2007 ALA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The program will be coordinated by the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) Subcommittee on Library Services to the Poor and Homeless in conjunction with the Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force (HHPTF) of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT).

Issues for consideration include resources for finding basic living needs (food, shelter, medical assistance); instruction for life skills (literacy, job hunting, internet use); library policies and access issues; specialized programs and funding strategies; partnerships with social-service providers; community-building initiatives; and other relevant topics.

This discussion will take place from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Saturday, January 21st, in Room 206B in the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center.

For more information, contact OLOS director Satia Orange at 800-545-2433 (ext. 4295) or via e-mail at or stop by Table 10 in the ALA office area during the ALA Midwinter Meeting.