Are Advocates for the Poor Really Poverty Pimps?

Are we working to end homelessness or perpetuate the cycle so that we all have jobs and keep the status quo? 

Some agencies do enjoy pointing to the number of people that are”served”.  Sometimes the interactions at each point of service is counted as a new contact with a new person. The annual benefit dinners and award ceremonies for these agencies boast of the numbers receiving services and not the success of the services. I have worked for them and left their employ when I discovered they cared more about maximizing the number of people they could report to serve than they cared about the quality of their service or the number of people who through them – were housed and better off.

Some agencies – The Union Rescue Mission, PATH, Union Station, Burbank Temporary Aid Center, The Foothill Unity Center – to name a few – have a strong and focused mission to make services personal and success is counted on an individual basis as well as those overwhelming MIS reports.

One of the criticisms by Cohen and Wagner (1992, p. 22) is that the “Poverty Pimps” are professional advocates and are not encouraging the actual people being served, or in need of service, to advocate for themselves.

I would like to introduce you all to Mark Horvath of wearevisible.com – where the entire point is to give voice to the homeless. They re taught how to use Social Media to advocate for themselves and tell their own stories.

Mark Horvsth's WeareVisible.com
Designed specifically to help the poor advocate in their own voices

Another criticism is that when Advocates or employees of agencies that work on ending homelessness present the work they are doing – they only tell “success stories” because politicians and the public are tired of listening to people cry all the time.

I like to believe that eventually everyone is a “success story” and that I talk about the middle of the drama and the hardships people are experiencing as they go though them. Success stories serve a purpose to showcase what has worked. Everyone else serves a purpose as highlighting why new approaches are needed. The standard solutions didn’t solve anything for them .

One thought on “Are Advocates for the Poor Really Poverty Pimps?

  1. I’ve come across very few respectable grants or RFP’s where explicit examples of poverty are advantageous. Even with start-up NGOs or NonProfs, most Fed or established grants want to see raw data, not pictures. Our grant writing is almost 100% based on outcomes, but we’ve been around for a quarter of a century.

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