May 26, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 26 May

President Obama's selection of Sonia Sotomayor to be his nominee for the Supreme Court is, among other things, important testimony to the importance of continued funding for public housing projects. Sotomayor, as has been widely reported, grew up in a public housing project in the Bronx, and went on from there to Princeton and eventually the federal judiciary. Imagine, for a moment, what might have happened in the absence of public housing for Sotomayor's family; where might she have ended up? We know that homelessness has an effect on how children learn and how they do in school, and despite the recent establishment of a few schools specifically for homeless children, the continued rise in the number of homeless school-age children suggests the need for a closer look at how public housing is provided.

Constructing sustainable public housing that serves as an asset to community development might be part of the answer, especially since new home construction appears to be at "its lowest pace on record" and home prices continue to decline in most major cities. Tucked into the recently-signed "Helping Families Save Their Homes Act" is $2.2 billion to address homelessness, specifically targeting families with school-aged children; if wisely spent, that money could also be part of the answer. Thinking further outside the box, maybe a whole-scale modification of the elementary education calendar -- particularly one that would help to address the well-established "summer slump" that hits children in lower socioeconomic statuses particularly hard -- is in order?

Last week "localism" emerged as a theme; this week, consider the impact of social media on the problems of poverty and homelessness. LimeLife's "Apps for Good" seeks to use the appeal of mobile gaming to help fund programs giving microloans to female entrepreneurs in developing countries; Debbie Tenzer's "Do One Nice Thing" campaign harnesses the power of crowds to create significant impact, one person and one contribution at a time. Even the federal government is getting in on the act, moving ahead with the Open Government Initiative that promises to use new technologies to involve ordinary citizens in the work of government. Instead of dumping the problem in the lap of some faceless bureaucracy, these campaigns ask us to become personally involved -- but don't demand that we dedicate our entire lives to achieving their goals. Maybe a little, from a lot of people, really can be enough.

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