How We’ll End Poverty


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.

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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.