In Multnomah County, Oregon, we are re-envisioning the way government can fight poverty and ensure families here are able to lead economically stable lives.
Inherent in this new approach is the belief that if government policies, practices, and investment helped to create inequity and deny opportunity in local communities, then government has an obligation and the ability to embrace new solutions that restore equity and expand opportunity to eliminate poverty and racial disparities.
This means approaching our work at the County differently, rethinking who we see as the experts, breaking down assumptions we make about who we serve, and showing willingness to invest in new ideas. In our effort to explore and encourage new approaches, the Multnomah County Department of County Human Services (DCHS) created the Multnomah Idea Lab (MIL) as a place to test new policies and innovations that help people and communities thrive.
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Trying to create access
As the largest provider of services and programs in our region, the County does a great job of connecting families with systems of care designed to address services and support, and income and benefit acquisition. Despite delivering excellent services, we have yet to achieve the community level outcomes related to the underlying economic needs of families to which we all aspire. While we are working hard to ease the experience of poverty for families, we have not ended it. There is growing research that in addition to services and income and benefits, families need access to assets and wealth in order to finally leave poverty.
With funding from the state’s Department of Human Services, we are partnering with the Family Independence Initiative (FII) to work with 100 families in Multnomah County and learn about ways to invest in their economic security.
The families we are partnering with have all recently left the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program and are facing a critical time on their path toward economic security. Using the FII model, families come together in small groups to set goals, support each other, and collectively tap into dollars that allow them to become stable and thrive.
What we learned
When families are offered an option that is not punitive, they absolutely respond to it. Families are telling us that they can’t believe we are trusting in their ability to make choices for their own families.
We are also learning that we have been approaching the issue of poverty in a less than optimal way. Often, we come up with solutions by making assumptions about the people living in poverty and how they came to be in their situation. By moving to a model in which we question and reexamine our assumptions, we have been able to set up a very different system of support and response.
This partnership will not only inform our County’s response to poverty, but also that of the state, and it will ultimately change the way we invest in solutions.
Read the full article about family-led solutions to poverty and racial disparity at americaforward.org.
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