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The first industrialist of RighTrak Industries is a homeless man in Houston, Texas named Willie. Willie loves God and wants to get off the streets, but he has been rather stubborn about doing it on his own. Recently, Willie has demonstrated that he is ready to let go of that control and accept help. Willie has been on the streets a very long time, so helping him will involve intense effort, extensive resources and careful planning. Fortunately, though, Willie has a lot of street smarts and has already chosen a vocation. Willie washes cars and dreams of one day owning a mobile detailing business.

The Mission:

To end Willie’s homelessness and set him on a path to ending his poverty with all the spiritual, social, educational, emotional, physical and (where necessary) financial support he needs.

The Goals

Empowerment of and buy-in from the industrialist are absolutely essential.  We can only help someone who wants to be helped in the way the help is offered, so Willie will set his own goals with the assistance and support of his table. Generally, though, Willie’s goals will likely include:

  • Establishing a stable network of friends and advisors
  • Engagement in a vocation through establishment of a small business
  • Consistent church involvement
  • Basic needs met (housing, food, medical care)
  • Addiction under control

The Gains

  • A life is changed forever.  Getting off the streets means he will be safer, his self-esteem higher, his needs met and that he will have the capacity to contribute to the community himself, showing others how to build themselves up as he did.
  • Lots of hearts are changed.  It is not uncommon for the volunteers to experience just as much change as the industrialist. Not many people get truly hands-on with poverty and homelessness, and it changes one’s perspective and one’s heart.
  • A community improvedWith a lot of hard work and determination, Willie will be able to maintain a legitimate, tax-paying small business that may eventually employ other needy individuals, which will stimulate the economy in Houston. Also, Willie will no longer be a consumer of many social services, freeing up those resources for others. As a financially independent member of a stable church and social community, Willie may become a donor to his church or may give back to the RighTrak program. 
  • A replicable model for successfully addressing homelessness, poverty and prisoner reentry. Willie is only the first. His completion of the program will provide a model for successfully meeting the needs of an individual in poverty, perhaps creating a change in the way already-established organizations use their resources to better benefit the individuals they serve. Additionally, Ecclesia’s involvement with RighTrak Industries expands the impact of a successful pilot project even more. Ecclesia hopes to build on its existing expertise with running Open Tables so that it may replicate it within its community of homeless churchgoers.

Strategic Plan

Conceptual Framework

Ending Willie’s poverty requires that 2 important, contributing factors be addressed:

  1. His lack of a supportive social network (relationships), and
  2. His lack of resources resulting from his homelessness and poverty (income from his vocation).

Address these components and the rest fall into place, or at least be made more manageable, so that his drug addiction issues can be meaningfully confronted and his life put back on the right track. More information about the RighTrak concept can be found here.

Steps to Ending Willie’s Poverty

Phase 0: Preparing the Table and the Head and Heart of Willie (6-8 Weeks)

The purpose of Phase 0 is preparation, both for Willie and for the chairs with their respective organizations. Willie’s emotional and mental preparedness are of critical importance; he must be ready to accept change or the program will not be effective. As many of Willie’s physical needs (food, shelter, clothing) will be taken care of for him so that he will not need to worry about providing meals for himself or finding a safe, relatively comfortable place to sleep. Instead, he can focus his energy on preparing himself emotionally and mentally.

Phase 0 includes:

  • Reading the book, The : Choosing to Learn from Life by Mike Breen (2006), which Willie has already completed, and which he is beginning to read a second time. This book discusses a faith-based approach to examining one’s life experiences and, as the title of the book implies, learning from them.
  • Extensive introspection and journaling to reflect on his past choices and his present circumstances. (Willie has begun this as well.) The case manager will be able to determine the extent to which Willie comprehends and is internalizing The Circle by the notes he takes and the letters he will be asked to write to the table about his thought-journey.
  • Attendance at church service and participation in Bible studies to assist in the introspection process and digestion of The Circle. Willie has been attending Bible study and has, in fact, been leading one.
  • Krist Samaritan psychological assessment. Relying on Willie to communicate his readiness is one way to know that he is prepared to move to Phase I, but it is not the only way. The Open Table model requires that the candidate take a computerized psychological assessment designed by Krist Samaritan Center to determine objectively where Willie is in the process of behavioral change.

The purpose of Phase 0 is also to prepare the table. The table members must be recruited, and they must be trained. Resources that are to be immediately available to Willie upon his beginning the program must be obtained. Table preparation includes:

  • Training conducted by Open Table staff. The Open Table model is emotionally intense and resource intensive, so chairs must be prepared and given the proper tools.
  • Open Table background process. To ensure the maximum probability of success, the table must know the number and seriousness of all the issues contributing to Willie’s poverty and homelessness. To that end, the Open Table model requires that Willie provide a credit report, tax transcript and FBI fingerprinting/background check. With the knowledge these reports and the Krist Samaritan psychological assessment provide, the table members are better able to guide Willie in his goal-setting and task completion.
  • Housing must be procured and the boot camp (Phase I) must be set up. In order to ensure Willie is not immediately thrust back into a negative environment, which he himself fears, he must have housing available upon his release. The housing chair, with assistance from other table members, will find and secure affordable housing for Willie.

Phase I: Boot Camp (1 Month)

Sufficiently prepared emotionally and mentally to enter the leadership square, Willie begins Phase I–boot camp–a period of high direction from the chairs and missional community members and high enthusiasm from Willie.

  • Addiction Counseling. It is fairly common for people living on the streets to have addictions to alcohol and/or drugs. Any addiction issues must be confronted if Willie is to successfully complete the RighTrak program.
  • Housing is prepared. Maintaining the state of mind necessary to accept what is being taught and continue the self-actualization process started in Phase 0 requires that Willie’s basic needs be met.  Worrying about such things will distract far too much from Willie’s efforts to deal with his addiction issues and to start the process of putting his life back together. Half-way houses in Houston are already beyond capacity, so we will locate a suitable apartment to be rented from a non-corporate landlord.
  • Finalize the Open Table background process. Let’s face it; things don’t always go as planned. If the backgrounding process isn’t done in Phase 0, we’ll finish it in Phase I.
  • Extensive community service (100 hours) will be an important first step in Willie’s establishment of his own positive, supportive relationships. Willie is a member of Ecclesia church, which happens to be in the middle of a large expansion project. Willie will be asked to spend 2 to 3 weeks volunteering at Ecclesia and assisting in its various ministries. Willie likely will want to go back to working his car detailing business, but he will be asked to refrain in order to make room for this important first step in establishing community support.
  • Journaling and additional Life Shapes book reading assignments will be incorporated into Phase I as well. Willie’s reflection on his past choices and his present circumstances will continue, as will the case manager’s review of his journal. The case manager and other table members who have longer-term relationships with Willie will meet with him periodically to assess his behavioral change progress.
  • Open Table Breaking of the Bread. Willie’s first introduction to the other table members will take place at a potluck dinner at one of the Open Table member’s homes. The chairs will introduce themselves to Willie by sharing their own stories—where they grew up, who they are and why they are volunteering to help a total stranger. Building rapport is one of the primary objectives of this meeting. Willie will be permitted to ask questions, but he will not need to share anything at this point.
  • Bayou hike and prayer walk. One of the boot camp activities will be a half-day hike along Buffalo Bayou along which there will be several prayer stations. Willie, accompanied by several table members, will pause at each station to read a prepared statement that ends with a direction to pray about a particular topic. The bayou prayer hike may also include asking strangers what things they would like to be prayed for.
  • Table members watch the movie Pursuit of Happyness together with Willie towards the end of the boot camp phase. An inspiring true story about homeless Navy veteran Chris Gardner, this movie has been an extremely effective part of other poverty-related programs.
  • Skill development and training begins as Willie apprentices with a local mobile detailing company (probably as an unpaid intern).
  • Chairs check in with Willie on a daily basis, rotating responsibility for making check-in calls, simply to touch base with Willie and ask him how his day was. The chairs will probably schedule who is calling Willie on what days with a shared Google calendar.
  • Open Table LifeStory. Phase I culminates with a formal table meeting called the LifeStory. At this potluck dinner Willie is expected to share his life story. This can be quite intimidating in front of 6 to 10 almost-strangers, but it serves to inform the chairs about his history, issues and current situation, all of which he has had an opportunity to reflect upon and process extensively over the last 4 weeks.

Phase II: The Life Plan (9 Months)

Following the high-direction boot camp phase is the high-discussion, high-consensus period of Phase II, the life plan. This phase makes up the largest single portion of the Open Table/RighTrak program. In it, Willie is asked to set goals for his life. The chairs assist, clarify and reality-check the goals, but they do not impose them. The table collectively defines tasks for each goal and assists Willie in analyzing them. Where needed, table members may arrange for the provision of goods or services. Major components of Phase II include:

  • Initial goal-setting meeting(s). Willie will be asked, “What would you like to accomplish in the next year?” The table encourages him to come up with between 50 and 100 goals, which will require Willie to expand his horizons. Other people who have participated in Open Tables report that this is an emotional experience and can be hard for someone who has been so beaten down to dream again. The goals cover all aspects of their life—education, work, medical, legal, health, relationships, transportation, etc. These goals are then ranked according to their priority. Then, Willie will decide what goals he should work on first, and people at the table decide who (including Willie) will do what during the next week to help accomplish those goals. They may brainstorm on how to accomplish the goals and often call on their networks to bring more resources to the Table.
  • Table meetings occur on a weekly basis to assess progress. The chairs, with the assistance of the case manager, hold each other accountable. Chairs ask, “How much progress have you made on your tasks?” This question applies to everyone—Willie as well as the other members of the table. Sometimes, goals are modified or added. For example, if one of Willie’s goals is to have an affordable cell phone but he is unable to document his low-income status because he has not filed tax returns for decades, then the goal of documenting the last seven years of income and tax activity would be added as a goal and given a higher priority than the cell phone.
  • Initial, smaller investment in the candidate’s vocation. Willie has expressed interest in further developing his mobile detailing business, so towards the beginning of Phase I, RighTrak Industries will supply or secure donations for the basic equipment and supplies needed for Willie to run a somewhat legitimate-looking small business (e.g., better car washing supplies, a tricycle for transporting them, a basic Dri-Fit uniform, a mechanism for tracking customer information and appointments, etc.). As Willie demonstrates competence in the equipment and processes supplied to him, additional processes like marketing analysis and marketing materials will be introduced. Willie, together with the vocation/education chair(s), will establish goals for various aspects of managing the mobile detailing business. The reward for achieving those goals is a larger capital investment in Willie’s business, explained below in Phase III.

Throughout Phase II goals and the objectives tied to those goals are assessed and then checked off, revised or eliminated. New goals are added as Willie progresses through the program. When Willie slides backwards, the chairs help him observe and reflect on the experience, and they discuss it with him. They assist him in developing positive coping mechanisms and plans for avoiding triggering situations, establishing accountability, and they guide him as he puts his plan into action. New goals are set and the process moves forward again. This process of observing, reflecting, discussing, planning, creating accountability and acting is the central theme of The Circle: Choosing to Learn from Life and the foundation of the Life Shapes. It is used throughout Phase II as Willie is empowered to put his life on the right track.

Phase III: Graduation/After Table Plan (As Long As Needed, 1-3 Months Estimated)

As Phase II reaches its ninth month, Willie and the chairs begin planning for the table’s wind-down. By this point in time Willie should be close to self-sufficiency. Goals are focused on maintaining rather than improving. Chairs encourage Willie to use his own resources to deal with challenges and obstacles or to seek out resources from the communities he has been developing over the last 9 months (i.e., his church community, his customers, his neighbors, etc.).

Table members do not abandon Willie upon graduation from the RighTrak program. The relationships developed between Willie and the chairs are in many cases likely to be long-term friendships. However, the day-to-day involvement of the chairs is replaced by casual monthly conversations. Chairs may call Willie monthly instead of weekly. Formal table meetings are replaced by “missional living,” which simply means inviting the object of the mission, Willie, to live life with the person. (For example, if a chair’s family is going out for dinner one evening, she might invite Willie to join them.)

As a reward for attaining the vocation-related goals set in Phase II, RighTrak Industries will make a larger, more significant investment in Willie’s business. The free and low-cost equipment provided in Phase II is supplemented with higher quality materials. His old and probably donated cell phone is replaced with a higher-end smart phone or tablet so he can process credit card transactions, track customer information and market his services on Facebook and other social media sites. One of the more significant rewards planned is a new and improved tricycle that will add considerably to Willie’s image as a serious small businessman.

 
 

You can teach a man to fish, but if he’s got no fishing pole or lures, then he’s not a fisherman; he’s just a guy who knows how to fish. Education is necessary, but alone it is not sufficient. Ending poverty and homelessness for a person or family takes extensive resources, and it requires concentrated focus on one individual or family until the job is done.

Pray for us. Lend a hand if you can. Consider donating.

Overview

Chronic homelessness is a result of poverty. Poverty has myriad causes, but fundamentally those in poverty lack two things: a supportive social network and a means of providing for basic needs like housing, food and healthcare. Address those two things and the rest falls into place, or at least is made more manageable.

Breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness requires relationships. The Open Table model centers around relationships, rallying an entire group of people around a single family or person for a period of at least 12 months. “Table” and missional community members befriend that person or family and provide spiritual, social educational and tangible support when needed. Read more about the Open Table model below.
A job isn’t enough; breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness requires empowerment and occupation. It requires vocation. Poverty cannot be alleviated unless there is a self-sustaining means of providing for the basic needs of housing, food and healthcare. Since we no longer live in a hunter-gatherer, tribal society that means making money. A job might pay the bills, but it is merely service at the will of an employer. A vocation on the other hand is a calling that builds a persons sense of self-worth. RighTrak Industries helps individuals build on the skills and street smarts they already have to enable them to become micro-entrepreneurs. RighTrak Industries works with the person to find a skill he or she has or wants to learn. We build on the skill with education and then put the skill into practice by starting a small business for the person, gradually working the leadership square. An apprentice or employee at first, the eventual goal is to turn the business over when the person is ready.  With any amount of luck, the person can then employ and teach other RighTrak Industries industrialists.

Relationships and the Open Table Model

This solution involves application of a relatively new model that has been used to help people in poverty called the Open Table. The Open Table is a social science research-based, relationship-centric, trial-and-error tested model for addressing homelessness and poverty. The mission of the Open Table is to “lift others out of poverty and homelessness to stability and wholeness, one at a time.” The creator, Jon Katov, realized that “those who really would like to escape poverty … have so many frustrations and challengesthat it’s very hard to keep going, find[] the help they need and solv[e] theirnumerous interrelated problems.”

Structure of an Open Table

A “table” is comprised of the homeless and/or poverty-stricken individual (referred to as a “brother” or “sister”) and 6 to 10 individuals (referred to as “chairs”). Each chair is responsible for a different category of Mr. Jones’ needs. Figure 1, below, depicts the makeup of a typical table. The method of the Open Table requires each chair to share his or her story—who the chair is, how the chair arrived at where he or she is today and the reasoning and desire to become part of the Open Table—before the brother is required to reveal his story. From here the seed of personal connection between the brother and the chairs is planted. Throughout the next 12 months the chairs are committed to surrounding a person who wants to step out of poverty, to love them, to cheer them on, and to help them achieve their goals, while the brother is committed to opening up his life to the table members.

How an Open Table Works

The brother/sister will develop his/her own life goals with help from the table members. Through weekly, bi-weekly and eventually monthly meetings, the table members and the bother/sister will continually keep each other accountable and evaluate progress in performing discrete tasks and reaching those goals. Where needed, the table members may help facilitate the resources and connections the brother/sister needs to reach his/her goals.

For example, one table member might be a member of a Rotary Club. If there is need for a medical or dental exam, this table member could ask a Rotarian who is a doctor or dentist if he or she could offer free or low-cost medical or dental care. Through the networks of all the chairs at the table, the brother/sister will ultimately be connected with many of the services and types of support he requires.

Each person at the table has responsibility for certain areas or subject matters, such as housing, transportation, healthcare, spiritual health and education/vocation. The table members assist in reaching the person’s goals and in following the life plan he/she creates by demonstrating the power of positive social networks, lending their own networks when appropriate. As the brother/sister becomes involved in the community (e.g., church, neighborhood, customers), he/she develops other positive relationships. Eventually, the community she develops replaces the intensive support provided by the table while still maintaining stable, long-lasting relationships with some or all of the table members.

RighTrak Industries adds a layer to the Open Table model, creating an additional “missional community,” a larger group of people who want to also be a friend to the brother/sister and help out from time to time, but who can’t commit to a whole year of weekly or bi-weekly gatherings.  Missional community members are asked to help out with specific projects like getting donations of furniture for an apartment or helping with the brother’s/sister’s vocational training or small business.

The relationships developed between the brother/sister and the chairs and missional community members are the foundation of the Open Table’s success in ending poverty for one individual or family. Where trust, communication and shared resources and knowledge are lacking when those in poverty seek aid from multiple agencies, this solution, by using the Open Table model, will provide.

Empowerment through Vocation

RighTrak Industries builds on the Open Table model by supplementing it with intense investment of resources in the area of vocation. There are tremendous benefits to creating and sustaining a small business. For a person in poverty to start a business and do it properly requires expert opinion, support and guidance, not to mention a great deal of initial financial support. The up-side of this investment, though, is tremendous. Helping someone in need become a micro-entrepreneur not only benefits the individual, but it also benefits the local economy and produces a powerful catalyst for change in the community.

Job Training Won’t Cut It

Poverty cannot be alleviated unless there is a self-sustaining means of providing for the basic needs of housing, food and healthcare. A job might pay the bills, but those jobs tend to be counterproductive. Most jobs available to people who are chronically homeless are low-wage and involve only menial tasks. Research shows these jobs actually exacerbate the problem because they are socially isolating and there is no opportunity for advancement, negatively impacting a person’s sense of self-worth.

From Homeless to Micro-Entrepreneur

A vocation is different than a job; a vocation is a calling. The purpose of one’s vocation is serving others, and there is satisfaction in the performing the work itself. In addition, the very process of learning how to operate a small business and putting that knowledge into practice helps the person in poverty learn the critical thinking skills and positive coping mechanisms needed to confront and deal with the social and psychological issues that are the root cause of the person’s homelessness.

Say the candidate has some skill in, or wants to learn something like washing cars, cleaning houses or painting. Develop that skill. Teach and assist with business administration. RighTrak Industries builds on the street smarts he/she already has and assists the candidate in becoming a legitimate, tax-paying citizen capable of supporting him- or herself. The RighTrak program does this by developing him and his vocation through a 4-stage leadership model called the leadership square.

Leveraging the networks of the Open Table chairs and missional community members, the candidate will receive education and training to further develop vocational skills. An apprentice at first, the candidate takes direction and learns. This period is marked by high direction from the table members and vocational skill mentor. (“I do. You watch.”)

While continuing to assist the candidate in refining and improving his/her trade, the chairs, several of whom are small businesspeople themselves, will guide him/her through a market research process, personal finance education, customer relations management tutoring, etc. The candidate then transitions to an employee as he takes on administrative tasks under the tutelage of various business mentors. This period, comprising the next side of the square (“I do. You help.”), is marked by cooperative involvement of the brother/sister and the mentors.

As the candidate encounters business challenges, the chairs and missional community members help him/her work through them using fact-based and analytical decision-making processes, providing financial support and arranging for in-kind donations when necessary. This process helps the candidate learn and put into practice the life skills needed for him or her to function effectively in society. As time goes on, layers of business operations like marketing and transaction processing are added, all with the guidance of the chairs. (“You do. I help.”) As marketing, efficiency and quality of service improve, so does the candidate’s earning potential.

As additional tasks are delegated, the mentors’ involvement is reduced. (“You do. I watch.”) The eventual goal is to turn the business over to the candidate for him or her to own and operate with little or no assistance. Having been empowered to take back control of his or her life, the candidate becomes financially independent and equipped to face the challenges of life without resort to begging, stealing, drugs or alcohol.

The Nitty-Gritty Details

A person can only be helped in the way the person wants to be helped. Self-determination is the first principle of social worker ethics after the commitment to the client. Thus, the precise plan for a given brother/sister or industrialist is specific to each individual candidate. You can get an idea of how RighTrak Industries works, though, by checking out the plan for the program’s pilot candidate, Willie, here.
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