Working Together Out of Poverty

10/17/2011 11:11 am ET | Updated Dec 17, 2011
  • Sid Mohn President, Heartland Alliance

Outside of my office, on the corner of LaSalle and Adams, a disabled man sits with an empty cup asking for change and a little help. He's there -- rain or shine -- appealing to the humanity in us all and reminding us that everyone from time to time needs a helping hand.

As recent statistics have shown, he is not alone in needing help. In fact, more than half a million Chicagoans live in poverty -- that's nearly one in four of us who struggle to meet the most basic needs. And one in ten of us are living in extreme poverty -- which means for a family of three, living on less than $8,600 a year.

Statistics also show that because of the recession, the number of people living in poverty has never been higher and the need for help never greater. This is a fact that we know all too well at Heartland Alliance. For nearly 125 years we have helped those who are homeless, living in poverty or seeking safety by providing them the opportunity to live a better life.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by these statistics and to think that nothing can be done to lift people out some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. But I know that is not true. And today -- which is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty -- gives me hope. Because I know just a few good tools and opportunities is all it takes to help people rebuild and transform their life.

At Heartland Alliance, we have more than 90 programs -- both here in Chicago and around the world -- that are working for exactly that, bringing more than a million people out of poverty and onto the path of stability. But those are the numbers. What really matters are the stories of the people who--with a little help--have turned their lives around.

A single mom with three young sons, D'angela spent much of her childhood bouncing around foster care and group homes, at times surviving abuse and neglect. When she left the system at age 21, D'angela was steeped in poverty -- unable to support herself and her family, her children were put into temporary custody of family, and D'angela bounced from couch-to-couch, friend-to-friend, always moving around. Her future seemed bleak and the opportunity to live a stable, secure life seemed unattainable.

But with help from Heartland Alliance, D'angela accessed a job placement program and found a job, secured an apartment through a program designed for homeless families, and regained custody of her sons.

Danny Moreno was living on the streets. As a gay teen, he was shunned by his family and kicked out of his home because of his sexual orientation. Just 19 years old, Danny had no where to go -- regular shelters for adult populations can be dangerous places for teens where they often encounter physical and sexual abuse.

But with help from Heartland Alliance, Danny not only found a safe place to live, but he learned skills to find a job and save his money so he can afford a place of his own. Today, Danny lives independently in the South Loop and earns enough income to pay rent.

I tell you these stories not because they're stories of success, I tell you these stories because they're stories of what's possible. Over the nearly 125 years that Heartland Alliance has existed, we've seen people overcome the longest of odds time and time again and build a real future for themselves.

So this year, as we celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, even with our struggling economy, I invite you to join me in remembering that poverty is a still a problem, but it's one we can solve with a few good tools and good opportunities.