March 4, 2016

Leaders share ideas, discuss efforts to help Hoosiers out of cycle of poverty

During a poverty summit at Marian University in Indianapolis on Feb. 24, University of Notre Dame professor William Evans answers a question while fellow panel members Sue Ellspermann, left, and Sheila Gilbert listen. Gilbert is the president of the national St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Ellspermann served as the lieutenant governor of Indiana before resigning on March 2. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

During a poverty summit at Marian University in Indianapolis on Feb. 24, University of Notre Dame professor William Evans answers a question while fellow panel members Sue Ellspermann, left, and Sheila Gilbert listen. Gilbert is the president of the national St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Ellspermann served as the lieutenant governor of Indiana before resigning on March 2. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

When Catholic Charities Indianapolis invited business, social and government leaders to meet at Marian University in Indianapolis on Feb. 24, the hope was that they would provide concrete ways to support the Catholic bishops of Indiana in their efforts to help people out of poverty.

Here are some of the thoughts and ideas shared by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and members of a panel called together to discuss the bishops’ pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana.”

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin:

“In our pastoral letter, the Catholic bishops of Indiana admitted that the root causes of poverty are complex and must be addressed effectively by a holistic and multi-faceted approach to social, economic and spiritual development. It is important to feed our hungry through soup kitchens and through the fine work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. But we cannot neglect the more thorny public policy issues. We need to face these if we wish to address the fundamental causes of poverty here in Indiana, as well as in our nation and global community.

“We want to work together with people of good will. The Church can be a partner with other faith traditions, community organizations, government and business in promoting what is just and right for society. We can offer a moral perspective that flows from the light of Christ.

“We can do our part in promoting better-paying jobs, the reduction of the higher unemployment rate in some sectors of the state, and what is more common—where people are working two or three low-paying jobs to keep food on the table. We can organize our parishes to be more active in keeping kids in school through graduation.

“Most importantly, we can strengthen and promote the family as the basic unit of society.”

Sheila Gilbert, president of the national St. Vincent de Paul Society:

“No one is going to walk out of poverty alone. There has to be someone who is walking with them and supporting them. That’s where one of the new thoughts is coming—around the idea of mentoring or partnering. That’s where business can play a real role because you can be encouraging your employees to walk with people out of poverty.

“Here in Indianapolis, the St. Vincent de Paul Society by next April or May is going to have 48 people who have completed a program to help them develop their goals and understanding of what they need. They’re going to need someone specifically to walk with them. And most of them are going to be women. It seems women are the ones who feel the hope they can make it out. Hope is the key virtue for people coming out of poverty.

“That’s what mentors do. They hold the hope for people when they can’t do it for themselves.”

William Evans, University of Notre Dame economics professor:

“To move people out of poverty, we need to know what works. And we do a very poor job of actually analyzing what we do in a systematic way to understand what programs actually deliver as promised. The evidence is clear that more education increases your earning prospects, that you’re going to be married, that you’re going to live a longer life. But if you take a low-income kid in a challenging school situation with one parent, getting that kid more years of education is often difficult.

“Our advice to Catholic Charities is that we need to take a look at your programs under the microscope, and do the best job of finding what works and what doesn’t work. And given that you’re a national organization, if something does work, you can disseminate it to all 180 local agencies. And if something doesn’t work, shut it down and move that money to something that actually works.”

Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann:

“Now the focus is on jobs that have higher wages because you can be in poverty if those are $10-an-hour jobs. So moving up those wages is important. And those wages being up probably means more education.

“So the state has been working very hard in the past three years to career counsel—where we’re aligning and understanding across the state and by region what are the jobs that are in demand, which ones have higher wages, and how do we encourage our higher ed system, our post-secondary education system to provide those skill sets.

“So when the opportunity is there, the programs are there, and then encourage people into those available higher wage jobs. We’re working on that. It has to be a public-private partnership.”

Phil Sicuso, partner in the law firm Bingham Greenebaum Doll, discussing a proposed rapid transit bus system that would add more frequent mass transportation in Indianapolis:

“We need people to be able to get to work, to the grocery store, to health care. There are a lot of people in central Indiana who don’t have a car.

“The question for everyone in this room is, ‘What are we going to do to see if this can be finished?’ One thing that is not debatable is the impact of something like this on the people who need help to be pulled up through the ranks, to have an opportunity to get places we all take for granted.

“Will businesses in central Indiana—people like us—identify this as priority? It may not be obvious to your bottom line, but do we want to have a community that helps raise people up? When leaders of business are vocal about an issue, it works. The question needs to be asked, ‘Is this one of them?’” †

 

Related story: Businessman’s commitment to employees and faith strikes chord at poverty summit

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