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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Not Just Rent Assistance: Catholic Charities Fort Worth Program Looks At The Big Picture


Some experts say service agencies working together-- a true holistic approach-- is the only way to get a handle on poverty.

A new Fort Worth program encourages families to think beyond that next paycheck, and make real plans for the future.

For 18 years, Robert Doar worked with the neediest New Yorkers managing programs for the city like food stamps, cash welfare and Medicaid.

He got an up-close look at how help for the poor actually works. He says, there’s room for improvement.

“We have a lot of activities and efforts and certainly a lot of expenditures for people in need in the United States," says Doar.  "I don’t think we’re as successful as we’d like to be.”

Speaking at a Catholic Charities Fort Worthevent, Doar said programs for the poor are all over the place: the public sector, the private sector, the nonprofit and faith-based communities.

He works for the American Enterprise Institute now, a conservative think tank in D.C. and believes a holistic approach to solving poverty makes the most sense.

“Sometimes federal programs don’t work well or jive well with what’s happening in a local community," he says. "And sometimes they work across purposes and sometimes people in need have to go to multiple offices to get different when really they’d be easier and better served if they go to one place.”

A New Approach To Pulling Folks Out Of Poverty

Doar pointed to a new Catholic Charities effort called Paduaas the perfect example of this.

Frank Santoni runs the pilot program and says the idea behind it’s a little different. Caseworkers help families solve short-term problems like paying a bill, and also counsel clients on the big picture— things like getting a new job, or going back to school.

“Listening to a client’s whole story and not just treating them as individual issues, but really try to understand the full picture because we believe every client who walks through the door is creative and resourceful and whole," he says.

When people are living on the financial edge, Santoni says, they’re so worried about their next rent check or daycare bill that they forget about their hopes for the future.

“The client may not come through the door believing that they can do anything about achieving those goals," he says. "Part of the reason they can’t is their bandwidth is maxed out through the stress of the daily grind of poverty and making ends meet.”

Help For The Long Range

Chelsea Wilson is a 24-year-old single mom with two little girls who makes $11 an hour refurbishing cell phones in a warehouse.

“It’s check by check, pretty much you’re living check by check," she says. "You don’t really have enough to be able to go places how you want to. It’s more like you’ve got enough money to pay the bills and that’s it."

And sometimes, not even enough money to do that. Wilson came into Catholic Charities to get help paying her water bill. Caseworkers are also helping her open a savings account, make a budget, pay off old payday loans and get started on her nursing degree.

“Because that’s something I’ve been wanting to do and I think I really have faith now that I’ll be able to go ahead and go through it now that I’ve got them as a support system," she says. 

Measuring Success With Hard Numbers

Every client in Padua has a counterpart getting more traditional, single-issue assistance through Catholic Charities. Frank Santoni says that means the success of both programs can be compared.

“We know we could fail. That’s a hard word for us to say, but the spirit of this is to fail fast, to fail forward," he says. "To know sooner than later if it doesn’t work, then we can move on to other things that might.”

Results from the program won’t be available until 2018. In the meantime, folks at Catholic Charities will spend the next two years working to give families in poverty hope not just for today, but tomorrow, next month, even next year.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.