Poverty is not a mindset. Poverty is a systemic failure.
We often hear that everyone can make it if they would just put forth the effort; that it is their own fault if they are poor. This is untrue. Many of those that are living on the margins and in the shadows of society have literally been forgotten. Decades of policy choices have created the dramatic increase in poverty that we are now experiencing. Systems and governmental barriers prevent those living in poverty conditions from escaping.
As a child, if you grow up in a neighborhood that makes no investment in you, that dismantles your neighborhood by closing schools and stores, blocks transportation access, that removes all resources from your community, you will be impacted. There is no way you wouldn’t be. And these experiences help frame our lives and the decisions we make. In fact, most people experiencing chronic homelessness struggle with what we call ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
We are a reactive society, which is one of our biggest downfalls. We have devalued the lives of children. These children will grow into adults. We then expect those adults to operate effectively, with rational thought and make good decisions. What we don’t recognize is that these adults were the children that ate Cheetos and juicy boxes for breakfast on the way to school. These are the children we didn’t invest in and gave up on. How can they thrive in conditions like this?
People, especially those that deal with chronic homelessness, need more than a roof over their head – if they even want that. They need wrap around case services, support, therapeutic healing, mental health services, etc. For example, California is expecting a budget surplus of close to $98 Billion in 2023. Gov. Newsome will be adding an additional $700 Million to his proposed budget of $2 Billion for housing solutions. Although this budget increase is commendable, instead of addressing the issues at the root of the problem money is thrown at housing. This rarely works.
As I teach my NEIU students in our “Hunger and Homelessness” Justice Studies class, no one grows up wanting to be poor or chronically unhoused. Systemic barriers and decades of failure have led us here to where we are today. Failing to provide proactive strategies and solutions, like investing in housing without addressing mental health, is not a legitimate path forward.
-Gaylon Alcaraz, Justice Studies – NEIU
About the author:
Gaylon comes from a long history in Chicago as an activist, organizer and champion of human rights. For more than twenty five years, she has worked on behalf of sexual minority women, anti-violence, gender equity, health prevention, reproductive rights, as well as race and culture issues. She has consistently applied her knowledge in practice towards quality improvement, increased access, and by challenging frameworks that do not allow for the exploration of diversity across multiple dimensions when working with, and on behalf of diverse constituencies. Gaylon is the past Executive Director of the Chicago Abortion Fund and is a founding board member of Affinity Community Services, a past board member of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and the Midwest Access Project. Currently, she is the Director of Operations with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois she was awarded her BA and MA from DePaul University. Gaylon is currently a PhD candidate in Community Psychology at National Louis University.