My new favorite TV show (in addition to The Mentalist) is 4REAL hosted by Sol Guy. Guy takes celebrities around the world to connect with young leaders who are creating change in their communities. The most recent episode featured Eva Mendes, and Liz Evans, the Executive Director and Founder of the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver. The Portland Hotel Society provides housing and advocacy for the "hardest to house": people with mental illness, physical disabilities, HIV/AIDS, a record of criminal activity, and drug addiction.
I was particularly moved by an interview with one Stanley Hotel resident, a heroin addict, who said,
"I wish people had a better understanding of the kind of people we are, 'cause we're not animals, and we're not contagious. It's just really hard. I don't know why they look at us the way they do."
Thanks to wonderful organizations like Kiva, and the ONE Campaign, people are becoming more aware of the huge difference a small loan, or donation to an international organization can make to purchase a net to prevent malaria, or help a family start a business. Giving to international campaigns is important, don't get me wrong, but I think we can all be seduced into feeling good about ourselves when we write a check to help someone in a faraway land, but forget that there is poverty in our own backyards that we don't always want to look at. For example, I live in Oakland, CA where according to an August 2008 Oakland Tribune article, 17.6% of Oakland residents are living in poverty.
Here are 4 things you can do to alleviate poverty in your community:
Volunteer year round. Lots of people get inspired to work at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, but organizations always need help. VolunteerMatch is a free tool for finding a volunteer opportunity near you.
Donate your gently used goods year round. On December 31st there is a huge line outside of our Goodwill of people (like me) dropping off bags of donations so they can get their tax receipt before January 1st. Sometimes the store has to turn people away because they can't process it all. Make going through your house for things to donate a seasonal activity in winter, spring, summer and fall.
Start a Giving Circle to fund local organizations. The 501c3Cast's most recent show featured an inspiring interview with Sandy Bettger of GivingCircles.org. Giving Circles are groups of individuals who pool their donations so that they can have a greater impact. Check out these tips for finding and starting a Giving Circle.
Treat and speak about the poor with respect.
Talking about her work with the The Portland Hotel Society, Liz Evans said, "A lot of this is about humanizing people." People talk a lot about "good neighborhoods" and "bad neighborhoods", "good schools" and "bad schools." Ultimately, whether we say it out loud or not, aren't we inferring that there are "bad people" and "good people"? Be aware of how you talk about, and interact with poor people. We are all more similar than we are different.
As a Portland Hotel Society resident said when asked to describe what was really happening in his community, "Lots of sadness no Hollywood script could do."
This post is part of Blog Action Day 08 (Poverty). Here are a few related posts:
• Four Big Thinkers' Ideas on Going Green, Ending Poverty from Treehugger.
• Geography and the Invisibility of Poverty (Blog Action Day ‘08) from From Poverty to Opportunity Campaign
• Blog Action Day: The "P" Word from Idealist.org