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Is it possible to overcome a hard-knock life if it’s all you’ve ever known? This is the question that often holds the key to breaking through the debilitating cycle of generational poverty. And while the road can be tough, the answer is ultimately yes.


Unlike temporary or short-term difficulty paying bills, generational poverty is usually defined when at least two generations of a family are below the poverty line. And statistics show that children who grow up in poverty have a much higher likelihood of raising their children in poverty as well – creating an often debilitating cycle that has a negative impact on both children and entire communities.

To start, it’s very common for children who are raised in poverty to adopt the same struggles or patterns of their parents or caregivers as learned behavior. Perhaps they see adults habitually spending beyond their means or putting money toward frivolous purchases. Perhaps they have heard a parent who can’t seem to get out from under say something like, “I’m working as many hours as I can get, but there’s still not enough for rent. If I can’t pay my bills, why bother even trying?” Maybe they have learned to max-out multiple credit cards with high-interest rates. Or maybe, to avoid a mountain of debt they choose not to even have a credit card, which in turn means they have no credit, which in turn means they are often turned down from landlord after landlord. On the extreme, perhaps they’ve even seen a caregiver endure an abusive relationship, or shoplift merchandise or food. These types of learned behaviors can not only repeat themselves, but can also contribute to an overall lack of optimism. It’s in these types of seemingly insurmountable situations that folks not only struggle to keep their heads above water, but keep sinking deeper.



I’m reminded of a lyric from the Broadway musical, Hamilton, that goes, “…the moments when you're in so deep it feels easier to just swim down.” And more often than not, children and young adults ‘just swim down’ by giving in to the only lifestyle that they’ve known, even when it’s negative and damaging. But why? Although a lack of financial resources can be the main challenge, the damaging effects of educational, parental, and spiritual poverty can create a profound sense of hopelessness. It’s the presence of hopelessness that can be an overriding factor in keeping generation after generation stuck in the cycle. Without hope and the belief that life can and will get better, and without a vision or picture of how to live life a different way, the motivation, energy, and resources needed to break it are very low. But, with a deep desire and commitment to live a better life, every cycle can be broken. The path out of poverty can be an uphill climb – but is entirely possible and begins with small steps.


• First, believe in the ability to change

o While poverty may have been a constant in your life up to this point – it’s not a life sentence, and there is a path out of it.


• Find a positive community environment

o Whether it’s through your school, a church or synagogue, a resource center, a recreational sports team, a center for the arts, or an after-school or religious program – take active steps to find positive, productive experiences or free classes where you can be part of a group or team. Creating these meaningful social ties will not only benefit you as a person, but will also expand your network.



• Seek learning and skill-building opportunities

o There are many different programs and services that exist for both children and adults, from Head Start, to soft skills training, to courses on financial literacy focused on getting out of debt, budgeting, and investing. Make it your mission to search for and participate in free educational experiences that can serve as the building blocks to a better future.


• Don’t be afraid to ask for help

o It can often be difficult to find the financial resources and guidance you need. Beyond financial and educational counselors, you can identify trusted co-workers or friends who have a strong grasp of finances; see if they would be willing to help mentor you and gut-check your process and progress. A mentor helps to create accountability and the small steps needed for you to start building wealth that you can pass down.


• Take advantage of workforce training and development

o Family Promise HCR has a partnership with United Way as a case management site for the Road to Success Program. This program helps both the unemployed and underemployed with workforce development skills. The goal is to help folks obtain jobs where they can earn a steady, living wage and build a path to financial independence. It also provides comprehensive support services through the first year of employment, including soft skills training and help with transportation and child care.


• Take a look at your support system

o Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they elevating you, or keeping your head submerged below the waterline? Sometimes blood is not thicker than water, and parents or family members are simply unfit to be strong and supportive models. Instead, try to form healthy and productive relationships with friends, neighbors, coaches, teachers, resource center employees, church members, and more.


No matter what steps you take first, the key is to get started! The cycle can be broken, and you can be the one to do it. In time, and with discipline and effort, you will feel the ebb of the undertow and the current will begin to flow in your favor.


Individuals who may be interested in participating in the Road to Success program can call FPHCR at 717-737-1100 or email casemanager@familypromisehcr.org to obtain an application.


To volunteer or donate, please visit https://www.familypromisehcr.org/get-involved


One of the most common misconceptions about homelessness is that it is an individual issue; that a single person or family determines their own fate and only they can prevent themselves from reaching a position where they experience homelessness or recover once they have reached that point. But this is truly not the case. The impact of a community support system can have a significant effect on homelessness.


This is true not just on an issue-to-issue basis (providing financial support, necessary healthcare resources, food, and clothing) but applies to the shared role all of these things can play in helping families recover from homelessness. As members of one community, we are all responsible for taking care of one another. We should do everything in our power to aid those in need.


How Communities Can Help

By helping families get proper care and find reliable sources of income, several of the primary roadblocks to finding housing are removed. Long-term economic struggle and illness are some of the leading causes of homelessness, so limiting their continued impact on the population experiencing homelessness is key.



There are many practical ways in which communities can support families experiencing homelessness and aid them on the road to finding housing. Financial donations, healthcare support, and aid with resources such as food and clothing may be some of the best ways a community can help. Donating food, clothing, and essential toiletries is very important, as many families experiencing homelessness are in need of these vital supplies during their search for stable housing. One opportunity to collect these supplies is through organizing community drives. These types of drives can help neighbors, co-workers, and places of business come together – creating both teamwork and social responsibility. This can also create a conduit for businesses to provide charitable job/skills mentoring and training, or healthcare services. An active and engaged community can play a pivotal role in providing families with the resources they need.


One of the best ways an individual can help families experiencing homelessness is by volunteering their time and talent for a local organization like Family Promise. As many individuals are passionate about helping those in need, their impact can be amplified by working with a community group that is already working toward that goal. Volunteering is fulfilling and provides real value, as one of Family Promise’s volunteers states:


"I will continue to be involved because I believe it is a valuable program that helps families to move from homelessness to home by working with them on important life skills and relationship skills."

- Kathy, FPHCR volunteer since 2010



The Power of One, Or One Hundred

While each action is extremely helpful on its own, the way these actions come together is just as important. Each feed into the other, providing varied and widespread support.

For example, if a person experiencing homelessness is looking for a job, the first step is to help them fulfill that need through job boards, skills training, mentorship, etc. But from that point, they may not have the right clothes or have transportation for the interview, which could prevent them from acquiring the position. This communal cooperation is key in supporting families to reach their eventual goal of finding housing.



There is no one way in which a community can completely solve homelessness. It is a complex issue that requires complex responses. That is why attempting to solve many of its key areas at once is a necessary and useful step. And when one part of a family’s journey to finding housing becomes easier, every other step follows along. An active community can play a pivotal role in providing families with the resources they need. And together, we can all play a part in accomplishing that goal.


To volunteer or donate, please visit https://www.familypromisehcr.org/get-involved



If you or someone you know are in need of shelter, contact Family Promise of the Harrisburg Capital Region. Please call (717) 737-1100 or start the application process online here.

  • Family Promise HCR

One of my favorite quotes is from fictitious boxing icon Rocky Balboa, which in part reads: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”


While some of life’s ‘hits’ are self-inflicted by poor choices or ill-informed decisions, often they are the result of a single major life event that gets thrust upon us, throwing our entire lives into a tailspin. A catastrophic illness with insurmountable hospital and medical bills. A blindsiding divorce. The death of a spouse. The loss of a job. A natural disaster. And, of course, a global pandemic. The list goes on. Many may even experience several drastic life changes all at once.



A THIN LINE

In Q1 2021, a consumer trends report cited that 56% of Americans were living paycheck-to-paycheck. ¹ With the majority of the population living on razor-thin financial margins, a drastic and unforeseen life event can drop a family to the mat in an instant. One moment you’re getting by, and the next you’re facing the loss of your home or being evicted from your rental property. While many of us could lean on family or friends for help, countless others might not have that option, quickly rendering them without shelter.


The COVID-19 pandemic alone has pushed millions of families to the brink of eviction. A recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey showed that more than a quarter of renter families with children across the nation are behind on their rent.


The same U.S. Census Bureau study indicates more than 73,000 Pennsylvanians are somewhat likely or very likely to lose their homes to eviction over the coming months. The federal freeze on most evictions enacted in September of last year expired on August 26th, leaving many to anticipate a rapid spike in homelessness.


It’s important that we recognize just how vulnerable many of us are to this very type of predicament…No matter how hard we’ve worked, no matter how many good choices we’ve made. In an instant we could be clamoring for a roof over our heads, just when we think it could ‘never happen to us’. Housing creates a stable environment to help weather life’s crises, but it’s often life’s crises that render us without a home.


May it keep us all mindful of the thin line that separates us as we walk through life’s sliding doors. If adversity knocks us down for the count, it’s in these moments that strength and grace can also find us – whether through friends, family, co-workers, or community organizations and resources like Family Promise.


The remainder of my favorite Rocky quote ends appropriately with this reminder, “But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”



¹ Jungle Scout Consumer Trends Report Q1 2021; PR Newswire


If you or someone you know are in need of shelter, contact Family Promise of the Harrisburg Capital Region. Please call (717) 737-1100 or start the application process online here.