New partnerships, programs to boost job opportunities, and raising public awareness about low-income families highlight the University of Michigan’s first-year initiative to prevent and alleviate poverty.
In 2017, Poverty Solutions focused on collaborative, action-based research partnerships with communities and policymakers, and, in partnership with the Detroit Urban Research Center, kick-started a number of projects that address poverty in concrete, tangible ways based on insights from academic disciplines from health care to urban planning.
“We’re proud of the accomplishments made thus far, but the work must continue to drive change not just in our community, but across the nation so that fewer people are living in poverty,” said Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor of social work, and public policy.
Many of the past year’s efforts took place at the neighborhood level through partnerships with community organizations.
In the Cody Rouge neighborhood on the Detroit’s west side, U-M’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, the Detroit Health Department and the Joy-Southfield Community Development Corp. are developing an innovative model for a community health worker-led demonstration project, with three Medicaid health plans working in conjunction with neighborhood residents receiving professional development training.
“What we’re looking to do is improve the health status of the Cody Rouge area, and by working together we’re able to document the efficacy of community health workers in this community,” said Rebeca Guzman, Detroit Health Department community health worker trainer.
President Mark Schlissel said the university takes great pride in focusing its research strength on problems of great significance to the public.
“Through Poverty Solutions, faculty, students and staff from multiple disciplines are connecting with one another and partnering with local communities to develop and test answers to the vexing challenges of poverty,” he said. “The great strength of U-M lies in its breadth of academic excellence, and Poverty Solutions is a fantastic example of applying this strength for the public good.”
Schlissel launched Poverty Solutions in October 2016. It is a universitywide effort to explore and test models to ease the effects of poverty and broadly share that knowledge, while working with community groups and supporting active-learning options for students.
The effort includes funding more grant awards in 2018. Ten campus units received $240,185 for 11 action-based research projects that kick off this month, and which are designed to prevent and alleviate poverty.
Four of the projects involve significant community-academic partnerships, with collaborative research activities facilitated in part by the Detroit Urban Research Center, a partnership among the U-M schools of Public Health, Nursing and Social Work, the Detroit Health Department, Henry Ford Health System and nine community-based organizations.
“The community-academic partnerships are focused on critical issues, and their projects will significantly address factors aimed at alleviating poverty, with the potential for widespread replication of an approach to research that actively engages the community in all aspects of the process,” said Barbara Israel, director of the Detroit Urban Research Center and professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health.
Some of the projects include:
• Examining the short- and long-term outcomes — such as schooling, juvenile delinquency and foster care — for older children whose mothers face unintended pregnancies.
• Exploring ways to make state energy efficiency investments more equitable and affordable for low-income families.
• Identifying strategies for improving immigrant families’ accepting health and social services.
• Expanding upon an evidence-based intervention for improving health services for women experiencing homelessness.
In addition to these programs, Poverty Solutions will continue a partnership with Washtenaw County’s Summer18 youth employment program to pair youth with faculty and staff to help them gain work experience, mentorship and life skills training.
About 40 students secured employment in the program in 2017, and Shaefer said the plan is to more than double that number of students for this year’s effort.
Poverty Solutions will continue to meet with policymakers and community leaders as part of the discussion.
Many of these efforts and partnerships have occurred in Detroit, which still faces challenges despite its improving economic recovery. While the city’s poverty rate of nearly 40 percent is almost three times higher than the national average, it dropped last year — indicating a move in the right direction.
“These new projects build on the momentum Poverty Solutions has gained in its first year,” said Shaefer. “We aim to push the boundaries of this action-based research and continue to apply our findings in real-world, scalable ways.”