‘Bridges out of Poverty’ teaches strategies for social services | SteamboatToday.com

‘Bridges out of Poverty’ teaches strategies for social services

Brandon Gee

— As the economy contracts and unemployment and social service rolls swell, a group of about 80 Northwest Colorado professionals are in Steamboat Springs this week to learn how to more respectfully interact with their clients.

The “Bridges out of Poverty” conference that began Thursday ends today and is being taught by Terie Dreussi Smith, coauthor of a book of the same name. Those attending the conference come from fields including human services, the judicial system, education, early childhood education, health services, family planning and more. The Routt County and Colorado departments of human services are sponsoring the conference.

“My goal is to raise some awareness that we live in a : class society,” said Routt County Director of Human Services Vickie Clark. “I think there are some people in our community who are in denial that we have poverty.”

Clark said it is important that people in a variety of fields attend the conference so different agencies can form a unified strategy to comprehensively address poverty.

“We don’t all work in silos,” she said.

Among the topics being discussed at this week’s conference is the difference between generational and situational poverty. Clark said the recession has brought a spike to Routt County of the latter, which strikes people who do not come from poor families and have not been poor their entire lives. Calls and visits to the Routt County Department of Human Services have more than tripled in a year, and, as of February, there are more county residents receiving Medicaid, food stamps, energy cost assistance and other help than a year ago.

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“Poverty has many different faces,” Clark said. The fact is that people here felt the downturn in the economy harder than most communities because of the cost of living being so high. This training does a good job of explaining the fact that poverty is relative.”

Dealing with the people receiving these services in a respectful way is crucial, Smith said.

“When you’re in poverty, you get ‘the look’ from your community,” she said. “When you have a relationship of mutual respect : information flows both ways. You really get a different perspective.”

By the end of the day today, Smith said she hopes she will have taught those attending the conference strategies to communicate better and to empower those who are struggling. Too often, Smith said, people chalk an individual’s poverty up to their own bad choices. Smith argues there are other factors, including exploitation and political and economic structures.

“I think what we want is an understanding that people in poverty are problem solvers,” Smith said. “The way many of our systems are designed, people in poverty are not decision makers in the process. : You have to have a way to engage people in poverty that is respectful so that people in poverty are at the table.”

– To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

By the numbers

Routt County Human Services statistics

In February 2009 and February 2008

Total office calls/visits:

In February 2009: 1,731

In February 2008: 558

Open cases for public assistance programs:

In February 2009: 901

In February 2008: 664

Medicaid recipients:

In February 2009: 731

In February 2008: 648

Food assistance cases:

In February 2009: 195

In February 2008: 143