Reframing Poverty: Transition to Success
An Insight from the 2013 Human Services Summit
Share on

It began with a bold vision. Matrix Human Services, a non-profit human services provider led by Dr. Marcella Wilson, set out to create and implement a national model of care without new legislation or policy change. This model would be scalable, sustainable, measurable and integrated into existing funding streams across various silos. It would unite systems and provide holistic services that would help clients achieve self-sufficiency.

Where better to put a program to the test than the economically challenged city of Detroit? With more than 67 percent of kids living in poverty, Motor City couldn’t afford to keep running the same old drills. Non-profits fighting over limited funds, unclear measurements of success, and a lack of best practices hadn’t yet broken the cycle of poverty and instability.

Plus, Michigan was ready for change. Gov. Rick Snyder had a bold vision. Committed to helping every person find a pathway to their fullest potential, his team implemented the “Pathways to Potential” business model in 131 schools across the state. The Department of Human Services (DHS) would go where clients were located and focus on 1) breaking the cycle of generational poverty, 2) improving school attendance, 3) improving safety, 4) enhancing educational outcomes, 5) building healthier communities, and 6) helping people move to self-sufficiency.

Addressing poverty could not be accomplished by one programmatic intervention. Resources had to be leveraged and integrated in creative ways to help vulnerable citizens see a new role for themselves with improved health and economic self-sufficiency.

Matrix Human Services’ program Transition To Success (TTS) would play an integral role in this new model. The program began by changing the framework for understanding poverty as a treatable condition. Like alcoholism or obesity, they approached poverty as a disease – one that decreases the cognitive development of children, increases mental health issues, and produces developmental delays and hospitalizations. Like a disease, poverty is treatable and needs to be addressed using a system of care based on research. Recognizing this TTS integrated four primary therapeutic interventions identified in the research: comprehensive care management, volunteerism, life coaching and financial literacy.

TTS trained providers to incorporate comprehensive care management with direct care professionals across health, faith-based, education, government and human services agencies to coordinate existing, already funded services into logical, step by step processes creating a CARE (Coordinating all Resources Effectively) plan. With assistance, clients created a “Map of My Dreams” including volunteerism and financial literacy. Peer mentors and human services professionals then supported clients’ execution of their Map.

Using a “train the trainer” model, TTS began to expand, providing curriculums and tools to train others and measure results. As Wilson explains, “TTS is a new business model. It is not about any single organization, it’s about a tapestry. We train trainers, providing them with curriculum and tools to train others and measure results and create their own social enterprise.”

“It’s a community model, so the community has to be involved. The community has to be engaged. It cannot be a cookie-cutter approach”

Sheryl Thompson
Deputy Director, Michigan Department of Human Services

The results speak for themselves. Ninety percent of TTS children have increased their grades and 100 percent are up-to-date on immunizations and hearing and vision screenings. Clients have increased their household income by an average of 85 percent and experienced substantial increases in credit scores.

The TTS training tools and CARE plan have also become an integral part of the Governor’s broader initiative. Like TTS, Michigan’s new client-centered human services model is holistic and integrates public programs, private partners and informal networks. It also takes the services to where people need them.

For example, DHS has partnered in opening 21 “Community Schools” in Detroit and looking to open more across the state. These schools are open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, to offer citizens success coaches and agency staff providing assistance with academics, health, social services, community development and community engagement. The state’s economic development corporation, department of community health, department of education, community ventures and Matrix TTS have all been key partners in this effort.

In Detroit and across Michigan human services leaders have dealt with the poverty crisis by creating their own productive disruptions. Starting with a bold vision, they were willing to reframe poverty, breakdown silos and initiate a new way of doing business that brought services where people need them and created a coordinated system that was easier to navigate.

“The non-profit community is more than just transactional providers of a plethora of programs and services under contracts with others; we are agents of transformational change within the community, with a larger responsibility than just delivering on contracts”

Marcella Wilson
President & CEO, Matrix Human Services


© 2024 Leadership for a Networked World. All Rights Reserved.