How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you simply don't have any boots? It's a question that eight Denver-based anti-poverty policy groups want answered. And it's a question, they say, that state lawmakers need to address.
Next week, the coalition initiates what some members are calling an unprecedented effort to bring Colorado's anti-poverty advocates together. The Paycheck Away Project, a listening tour that aims to identify poverty issues across the state, will kick off Wednesday in Colorado Springs. The first of five town hall meetings will feature a handful of the area's anti-poverty agencies.
"What was missing was advocates outside of the Denver metro area," says Deb DeBoutez, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. "We need to work to get the constituents involved in the anti-poverty movement."
DeBoutez hopes that Paycheck Away will strengthen the anti-poverty lobbying efforts in Denver, which have recently focused on allocating Referendum C dollars to programs that benefit low-income Coloradoans. She likens the series of town hall meetings to the National Rifle Association's rigorous approach to bringing individuals together on a single issue.
"It made sense to listen to what those [other] communities need to be working on in the state Capitol," she says.
According to Colorado College political science professor Robert Loevy, anti-poverty coalitions like Paycheck Away have an unusual opportunity to bring their agenda forward as the Democratic Party, which has historically pumped money into social programs, grows stronger in Colorado. Still, he says, it behooves those groups to take a cue from the nation's right-wing lobbying powerhouses.
"What they are doing is perfectly logical," he says. "More liberal and progressive groups are looking at the kind of effective lobbying that conservative organizations are doing and saying, "Why can't we do that?' Gaining support, being visible, having a voice and having grassroots support in the outlying cities of Colorado can produce votes in the state Legislature."
The Paycheck Away Project was named for the plight of Coloradoans who live below the poverty level, struggling to survive between paychecks.
"A large portion of our constituents are living in debt. So if they lose their next paycheck, it means that they have debt they can't pay for as well," says project organizer Ben Davis, spokesperson for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
Paycheck Away will also host town hall meetings in Greeley, Grand Junction, Alamosa and Aurora. In Colorado Springs, local presenters will extrapolate on the issues of mental and physical health, hunger and homelessness facing El Paso County's poor, which includes an estimated 75,000 uninsured and 1,500 homeless.
The presenting agencies include Homeward Pikes Peak, Care and Share, the Mental Health Association of Colorado, Women's Resource Agency and the El Paso County Health Department. Impoverished individuals will be encouraged to speak.
When the tour ends in October, the project's organizers hope to create a five-year blueprint for a series of anti-poverty policy prescriptions to take to state legislators.
"It is readdressing priorities and making sure that we are addressing our communities," Davis says. "If one person is sick then we are all sick, until we are healthy."
Paycheck Away Project Listening Tour, Colorado Springs Town Hall Meeting
First United Methodist Church, 420 N. Nevada Ave.
Wednesday, Aug. 23, 5:30-7 p.m. Community resource fair from 5 to 7:30. Snacks provided.
For more info, call Jane Merritt with the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative at 719/576-7432.