Living Columns & Blogs

Helping Hands: Shelter is first step in breaking poverty cycle

Living in poverty is exhausting. It’s overwhelming, depressing and it’s easy to feel like there is no way out. Every day is just about surviving. In constant crisis mode, there is little time for looking ahead or planning for the future.

Have I lived in poverty? No. But it only took one hour of pretending during a simulation to imagine just how difficult it is to get out of poverty. My experience came from Health and Human Services Day for Leadership Centre County, coordinated by the Centre County Council for Human Services. During the simulation, I quickly became overwhelmed, felt like I didn’t even know where to start and made snap decisions based solely on surviving.

I was a mom of two teens, recently abandoned by their father, and left with only $10 in a checking account. I felt forced to make bad decisions, like accepting my 16-year-old son’s high school drop out status and sending him off to find a job to support the family. I spent the hour — which represented four weeks — trying to figure out how to pay for food and not lose our housing. By the end of the month, I hadn’t even had time to look for a job, let alone get one, and we were still living in crisis day to day, in danger of losing our apartment.

I left the experience wondering how a family in this situation — or any of the many circumstances of people living in poverty — was ever going to get out of it. It is common for the cycle to repeat itself. The mom had also not completed high school, and it felt like the scenario was repeating itself when the son dropped out and went to work full time. I wondered how he would ever complete his education and be able to make a living wage.

This is why programs and services available through organizations like Housing Transitions are important in real life. The mission is not simply to provide a shelter but to provide shelter so that all the other issues can be addressed. Shelter is just the necessary first step because without it, people cannot look ahead. Our caseworkers do not stop at today. They require clients to think about the future and set goals. Many of our clients, whether homeless or at risk, have a simple goal of survival. However, our staff encourages them to look beyond today and think about skills they need to acquire, education goals to set and personal changes to make to live independently and sustainably. They help connect clients with the many resources in our county like mental health and addiction support, childcare and adult services. Our Life Skills Training Program, required of residents at Centre House homeless shelter, provides daily classes to address areas of concern like budgeting, job interviewing and interpersonal skills.

Housing Transitions designs programming with the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and planning for a brighter and more promising future for our clients and the community.

Morgan Wasikonis is the development and community relations coordinator for Housing Transitions.