Bridges Out Of Poverty is an organization that is creating a common understanding of poverty and addressing people’s needs. We had a chance to interview two leaders with Bridges in Ohio, Eugene Krebs and Philip DeVol, authors of “Bridges Across Every Divide.”
1) What should ordinary people know about poverty?
In order to understand poverty, we feel that you need to read and understand the common language and various lens or ways of looking at our situations. (a)Bridges Out of Poverty gives people working in the institutions a new way to look at poverty and class issues. (b) Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’-By World offers that same language to people in poverty. (c) Bridges to Sustainable Communities is for legislators, CEOs, Eds. This gives everyone a common language and understand of what to do about poverty. The latest book builds on 20 years of growth; it’s time to address poverty at the policy level. (d) Bridges Across Every Divide does that.
2) Is poverty in the US getting worse or are people’s lives getting better?
The answer is both. Economic development, wages and opportunity are wrongly imagined to be like soft butter spread on fresh toast; evenly. Instead it is more like cold butter on Wonder bread; kinda lumpy. For some people their lives are getting better, because they have post graduate education. Others who lack education or are a prisoner of geography find it harder to break out, often due to transportation issues, along with the benefit cliff. Sometimes they need to realize they can have “agency”.
3) Besides job skills, what other skills do people need to escape poverty?
Go back one square; how do you get job skills? By having “agency”, which is a fancy word for feeling like you can be in charge of your own life. If you have agency, you understand why are in the situation you are in now, and you build your own ladder up. After you get agency, you seek job skills. Bridges and Getting Ahead graduates have agency and it is the core job skill.
4) Tell me about Bridges and how it helps people
In the US we have approached poverty the way the blind men in the fable approached an elephant. As they touched the elephant the man who touched its trunk thought it was a snake, the man to touched the tail thought it was a rope, one thought it was a wall and another a tree. Bridges/GA give a community a comprehensive understanding of poverty and class issues. They have a common language. We understand that we are all problems solvers. People in poverty are needed at the planning and decision making table because they know what poverty is like. People in wealth are needed at the table because they have the long view, resources, and connections. People in middle class because they love to attend meetings; they have to-do lists. Every sector that is impacted by poverty (almost all of them) can get better outcomes by using Bridges concepts to plan and operate their systems. People in poverty are helped by the changes they make themselves, the changes made by the institutions and the changes made at the community level.
5) How does mental health and addiction make the issues more difficult?
Mental health and addiction issues are part of just one cause of poverty: individual circumstances, choices, and behavior. This cluster of research is the default mode of conservatives. It has to be addressed. Phil came from the addiction field, 19 years as ED of an addiction treatment center. He used Bridges ideas and their clients did better. But there are three other clusters of research on the causes of poverty: political and economic structures (the default mode for liberals); community conditions (where you live determines how difficult or easy it will be to get out of poverty) and exploitation of people in poverty (private and public ways of taking the last dime from the pockets of the poorest people.)
So – the causes of poverty are not the either/or given to us by the left and right. Bridges sees that poverty is both/and. Poverty is caused BOTH by the choices of the poor AND by political economic structures…..AND community conditions and exploitation.
In Bridges communities we address all four causes of poverty.
6) What can someone who wants to help do to make a difference?
It is a cliché but getting involved in a local Bridges initiative. Read the books and go through the training. Talk to your church, synagogue, or mosque, Salvation Army and United Way. Use the Bridges concepts to improve the outcomes where you work. Offer Getting Ahead classes to engage people in poverty in the work. Build a Bridges collaborative that operates above the silos. Plus ask Andre how to get involved in this region.
7) How did you both get involved with this effort?
Gene: At my last think tank one of my tasks was to interview the 5,000 people who make Ohio work. So during one of my bi-monthly bipartisan coffees with Jennifer Brunner, former D Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate, I asked her who I should interview about poverty, and she replied instantly “Phil DeVol”. If you watch that video on the Center for Community Solutions website you can see the gears in my head all stripping out as he explains his approach.
Phil: As mentioned above, I used it where I worked, spread it to the community and (after co-authoring Bridges Out of Poverty) watched as other communities went through the same organic, locally relevant process. Now many sectors are using Bridges/GA concepts: employers, banks, healthcare, post-secondary, criminal justice, faith-based, education and so on. Bridges/GA is now in 47 states, 6 other countries and GA has been translated into Spanish, Slovak, and Czech.
7) Tell us about your book, “Bridges Across Every Divide” and how to find out more.
We explain how the Bridges model works but we also push back against Henry Adams, grandson and great-grandson of U.S. Presidents who famously wrote that “politics is how we organize our hatreds”. We believe him to be wrong because in Bridges communities we have seen people from all political persuasions working together on poverty issues. In our book we lay out another path to politics and policy development, one based on relationships. After leaving the Ohio House, Gene convinced the legislature to pass ten suggested bills into law, all without a PAC in a state like Ohio which is “pay to play”. We outline how to develop sound policy, pass it, defend it, but even more importantly, using the Bridges model as the framework, a new method of developing a process to determine how we govern ourselves. To order go to https://www.ahaprocess.com/store/bridges-across-every-divide-book/
Why should we hurry to solve this issue of poverty? Because we have always used unskilled and low skilled manufacturing jobs to help the poor and working poor move up to the middle class, if not for them, at least for their children. However, estimates are that about half of all jobs in the near future will be replaced by automation and artificial intelligence. We need to act now to move people out of poverty as the traditional means are evaporating.
To see videos about the book please go to Columbus on the Record https://video.wosu.org/video/the-complex-problem-of-poverty-xynpzr/
The State of Ohio. Begin near the 5 minute mark: http://www.ideastream.org/programs/state-of-ohio/more-info-on-the-fbis-raid-on-rosenberger-and-an-anti-poverty-program-still-working-in-ohio