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Treating Poverty Like an Illness

"Transition to Success," which treats poverty like an illness, and Matrix treats its clients like patients. While typical social service programs focus on symptoms of poverty such as hunger and homelessness, Matrix creates an action plan for its clients.
"Transition to Success," which treats poverty like an illness, and Matrix treats its clients like patients. While typical social service programs focus on symptoms of poverty such as hunger and homelessness, Matrix creates an action plan for its clients.
May 23, 2013

LANSING, Mich. - Efforts to help people rise out of poverty often are largely unsuccessful. So, Matrix Social Services, Detroit, is changing the way it treats its clients. The organization has created "Transition to Success," which treats poverty like an illness, and Matrix treats its clients like patients. While typical social service programs focus on symptoms of poverty such as hunger and homelessness, Matrix creates an action plan for its clients.

Marcella Wilson, Ph.D., president of Matrix, said the first thing they ask a client is "What's your dream?"

"If that person wishes to be a nurse, we start with basic needs: food, clothing, shelter. We then move to making sure the client learns how to work. Then learning how to read, getting a GED, financial literacy. And from there we help the client access all the other services they need to be successful in higher education," she explained.

Wilson said poverty should be treated more like a public health problem, since it has profound physical and psychological effects on the people who live in it - especially children.

"When children are living in poverty and face food insecurity, they have decreased brain and cognitive development, psychosocial development is impaired, mental health disorders are increased, the risk for developmental delays in increased. Fighting poverty will drive improved health care outcomes, there is no doubt," she said.

The Michigan Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers has endorsed the "Transition to Success" model and encouraged more service agencies in the state to embrace it. Wilson is also working on a national pilot program. She said this program does not cost any more than traditional service agencies.

Rob South, Public News Service - MI