November 11 – Poverty: A Community Responds

On November 11, Faith & Action convened a discussion called, Poverty: A Community Responds, brought together Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Deborah Bial, founder of the Posse Foundation, and Dr. Valeria Maholmes, Chief of the Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The event focused on three subsets of poverty: housing, education, and hope. The discussion was moderated by UIndy President Rob Manuel.

Desmond, the resident expert on housing, told a story about Arleen, a single mother of two struggling to keep a roof over her head. Desmond integrated himself into the lives of eight struggling families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to explore extreme poverty and economic exploitation. Desmond explained that housing should consume about one-third of a person’s income, but for most below the poverty line housing absorbs over half of their income. Once Arleen paid rent, she would have only $20 left for food, transportation, and clothing for her two boys. Desmond told us that eviction is cyclical. Once a family is evicted, it becomes public record which future landlords can use as a reason to deny applicants. This forces mothers, like Arleen, to becomes desperate in search of shelter and settle for conditions that would be deemed unlivable by most of the populus.

Bial is a champion for education by addressing the challenges of college for underrepresented populations. Working with public school students, Bial defends all kids and believes that any and all kids have the ability to go to college. Bial said the most important thing is to believe in our kids. Right now, our society tells us that there is something wrong with those in poverty. Bial confronts this and tells us that there is something wrong with us, not them. Our society created this dichotomy of “us” and “them” when there should not be one due to the fact that we are all humans.

With extensive background in child health and development, Maholmes provides support serves to schools in low-income neighborhoods and communities. Maholmes explained the science behind a child’s brain and how living in poverty for extended amounts can alter the physiology of the brain. Early childhood poverty has been linked to mental health issues among emerging adults. Maholmes gave the common example of a single mother coming home from a long day at work wanting some peace and quiet, yelling at her kids to be quiet, and sitting down and watch television. The consequences of repeated actions like the example are detrimental to a child’s development. Acknowledging the difficulties of impoverished families, Maholmes told the audience that children need a positive relationships. Each child needs a mentor in their life, someone who can be a champion for them.

Manuel prompted the speakers to discuss things that everyday people can do in regards to poverty. Desmond told the audience that people cannot succeed without housing. There are programs in place to help low-income families, but they all have waiting lists that could take decades. Desmond concluded by saying that if we want to tackle poverty, we must tackle the housing crisis. Bial challenged the audience to act, but in a way that every audience member could manage. Bial asked that we be the “table pounders” for someone who deserves a chance. By this she means that we lift up and promote those who deserves an opportunity or a seat at the table. Maholmes asked the audience to put the effort in and be the mentor or champion that every child needs.

Mayor Joe Hogsett closed the evening by explaining that poverty is a crisis in Indianapolis. The projects that the  Faith & Action Project have funded for this year will be a step in the right direction for combating poverty in our city.


The Faith & Action Project at Christian Theological Seminary had identified poverty as a leading crisis in Indianapolis and hopes to inspire collaboration among faith communities, nonprofits, and government agencies in order to reduce poverty in the city. The Faith & Action Project seeks to help accelerate the efforts that many are already working diligently on as well are inspire new ideas and encourage others to get involved. The project is made possibly by a gift from the Mike and Sue Smith Family Fund. Poverty: A Community Responds is sponsored by the Central Indiana Community Foundation. To learn more contact Lindsey Rabinowitch at

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