2018 Poverty and the Urgency of Prisoner Reentry and Life Restoration
From The ODA Blog
BALTIMORE, MD - Along the grim boarded-up streets of East Baltimore, where the causes and effects of poverty are revealed 24/7 within the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Open Door America has intersected with over a thousand households through after-school programs, food and clothing drives, case management and mentoring services, workforce development activities, and community partnerships. Throughout, the self-funded, government-free 501(c)(3) nonprofit has engaged many of the nation’s top public and private responses to poverty, recidivism, and social dependency. The takeaway: there are no experts and no silver bullets.
The nation's current malaise and inertia regarding 43 million people in poverty, 2.3 million behind bars, 3.7 million on probation, and 840,000 on parole is a derivative of the hyper-partisan cacophony that dominates our airwaves, op-eds, and social media. The louder our tribal voices become inside our thought silos, the less we are able to focus on matters of critical shared responsibility. In a nation of crumbling infrastructure, it should come as no surprise we now have a shortage of bridge-builders.
The United States spent $74 billion on corrections last year, more than the Gross Domestic Product of 133 nations (68% of the world). Moreover, in today’s deeply-divided electorate, marshaling a decisive 50.1 percent majority to re-energize the poverty debate is simply not possible. After five decades of massive government spending, politicized social experimentation, and deadlocked wars on poverty and drugs, America in 2018 remains light years away from sustainable poverty solutions.
Our view: Less than 25 percent of Baltimore’s current entrenched poor are positioned to extricate themselves from the miseries of poverty without major outside interventions. Decades of underemployment, high incarceration, and profound social alienation have given rise to a seesaw of anger and indifference. Strangely, for so many, the lack of sustained progress in the war on poverty since 1965 somehow validates irresponsibility on the streets and inertia in Washington. Truth be told, many Americans have sadly grown comfortable with the nation’s urban quarantines that contain the poor while relegating their plight to clergy, social workers, police officers, and judges. Thirteen years on the job, it would be professional malpractice for Open Door America to whitewash what it has seen and heard in East Baltimore. The stakes are simply too high. Given the totality of damage and cost associated with this permanent underclass, a strong case can be made that as goes East Baltimore, so goes the future of the Republic.
Started as a community development corporation with resourcing from a national religious denomination, Open Door America was absurdly compelled to jettison this ill-matched, asymmetrical partner to stay true to the timeless biblical concepts of justice, compassion, and peace. Instead of cooperation and creativity, ODA encountered deep structural resistance to the pursuit of the greater good. Like others that followed, this attempt at partnership was ultimately undermined by myopia and rapacity. As it turns out, finding truly America-first collaborators became, and has remained, the chief obstacle to traction and success. In the battle for America’s soul and future, the process and journey have proven to be far more instructive and useful than the assorted stops along the way.
By year three, Open Door America came to see that the best children’s program was a living-wage for mom and dad. In a city of excellent after-schools and heroically committed teachers, the issue for us became the young parents. In our second elementary school partnership, a student body of over 600 had less than 20 parents involved in the PTA. An ODA grief counselor reported that over 25 children had witnessed the shooting of a family member during the previous school year. Ninety percent of the students were living in households below the poverty level, largely due to a neighborhood unemployment rate of over 40 percent.
Open Door Baltimore, a nonprofit that fights poverty by working with businesses to provide living-wage jobs, is expanding beyond the beltway. To better reflect the organization’s larger mission, the board of directors recently approved a new identity and logo.Read More