05/23/2014 09:36 am ET Updated Jul 23, 2014

Marriage Can't End Poverty

Last week, we heard a call for renewed dedication to the fight against poverty from many of our nation's leaders. On its face, it seems like the rallying cry we need to ensure continued focus on this important issue. The proposed solutions however -- friendship, accountability, love and traditional marriage, not government programs -- ignore decades of proven anti-poverty strategies. It's a naïve, simplistic approach to such a complicated problem, and it's dangerous to struggling families.

Poverty is the result of a complex web of factors, and the assumption that there's a one size fits all solution is fundamentally untrue. For 33 years, I've been president of Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization. In that work, one of the most constant truths we face is that each of the people we serve comes to us from a different background and has different needs.

For some, homelessness has been both a constant threat and a reality. They've spent months and sometimes years living outside and the simple task of surviving day to day, especially during cold Chicago winters, is a task that requires every ounce of their energy. For these families and individuals, immediate placement into an affordable housing unit with connections to healthcare and job training is needed.

For others, disabilities and chronic mental and physical health issues keep them trapped in poverty. The cost of treatment and care can be astronomical -- assuming they can get a correct diagnosis in the first place -- and those we serve often require intense, ongoing treatment for years. They find themselves on disability payments, in need of constant care. Without the comprehensive treatment they need, how can they move forward?

Still others are the working poor -- those working 50 hours a week on minimum wage, just one illness, one unexpected expense away from homelessness. For these individuals, job training and placement into well-paid career tracks is the key.

To say that marriage would end homelessness, illness, joblessness and injustice -- issues at the core of poverty -- simply doesn't make sense. Getting married doesn't put a roof over your head, treat your illnesses, or get you a better job. And while there is no one answer, Heartland Alliance's more than 125 years of experience has shown that well-executed social programs play a key role in addressing each of these issues.

By offering programs focused on housing, healthcare, jobs and justice, people can and do reach permanent stability. Social programs offer a lifeline, a leg up and an achievable, measurable means to move forward. These are tools we have to prioritize and invest in. With them, we have a path out of poverty. Without them, we ignore the plight of millions, perpetuating a cycle that we have the capacity to break, if we only have the will.