Every year, we are challenged to learn about different justice themes. This year the Bellarmine’s annual justice summit focused on economic justice. Like many fellow Bells, I was curious as to what economic justice was all about. However, after an eye-opening powerful assembly featuring Wine to Water, a beautiful speech by Rev. Michael-Ray Matthews and thought-provoking breakout sessions, everyone walked away with better information on this critical economic theme in our community and world.
Living in California, almost everyone has witnessed someone suffering forms of economic strife. California has approximately 129,000 people who are homeless, with nearly 10,000 homeless living in Santa Clara County. But with a problem as large as poverty, how will our help significantly impact such a huge problem? Individually which social justice groups can we trust to ensure that our time and resources are effectively spent battling the issue? This year’s Justice Summit looked to expose students to various social groups who provide support and care to the people who are affected by poverty.
Personally, I participated in Summit Sessions which centered on battling poverty through affordable housing and breaking the cycle of poverty through education. In order to effectively end poverty, we must attack the problem from multiple sides, utilizing several different organizations and strategies. My first session involved a non-profit called “Housing First” which looked to work with contractors to build affordable housing. Our speaker, a representative from Housing First, detailed what homelessness really meant. He made the point of communicating that most homeless people are homeless temporarily, and their reasons for homelessness are not always black and white. Some common reasons include work layoffs, divorce/breakups or expensive medical bills. He stated homelessness does not solely affect individuals, but also entire families. Much of the time, an entire family is forced to sleep outside due to poor circumstances or the raising rent and housing prices in Northern California. This is where Housing First looks to step in and make a difference. Each housing location gets strategically built nearby certain locations that appeal to the residents. For example, many of their housing complexes are placed near certain pharmacies or hospitals, and supermarkets. Rent in the Bay Area is expensive, that even if a person or family works several jobs, after paying rent and bills, many lower-income families are left with limited funds for groceries and other necessities. Through funding from the state of California and several counties, Housing First, is able to build apartments around Northern California and lease to people in need with reasonable rents.
The second Summit Session I attended, highlighted how education can fight poverty. The speaker was Bellarmine Graduate, Deacon Rubén Solorio who is also the principal of Sacred Heart Nativity School. He spoke about breaking the cycle of poverty through education. In his speech, Mr. Solorio detailed his high school journey and how attending Bellarmine was critical for his current success. He stated that many youths in his home neighborhood struggled with academic success because of violence and drugs. Mr. Solorio described how one had significantly less of a chance to successfully make it out of poverty while attending school in these areas. He then segued into a discussion about the importance of education and how it can open new doors for families to acquire better-paying jobs and move out of lower-income areas. He stressed that Sacred Heart Nativity School looked to propel students, K-8, into more prestigious high schools so that they can graduate and attend college and earn a degree. Without an education, one’s opportunities become limited and usually are restricted to working hourly wage jobs. Unfortunately, this continues the cycle of poverty, as the cost of raising a family exceeds what one can earn in an hourly wage job. Sacred Heart Nativity School, utilizes a thorough application process and looks to give families the opportunity to attend their school so that they can have more opportunities as they grow up and make a life for themselves.
All in all, this year’s Justice Summit looked to educate the Bellarmine community about the different faces of poverty. Much of the time we have a preconceived notion about what poverty is and what it looks like, through past experiences, popular culture, etc. However, poverty is not always clear cut, more than likely it can be extremely complicated with multiple factors all working at once. Our attempts to cure or relieve the gloom of this evil may feel hopeless. Our single effort may seem like purely a gesture with no real effect, but this is incorrect. If we pair our efforts with the multitude of programs around the world, we can make a big difference in winning the fight against poverty. However, we will only begin to see real change if everyone makes a concerted effort to fight the injustice. It doesn’t have to be a huge movement, but something as small as buying someone a meal or delivering much-needed supplies to shelters can make a huge difference. I encourage everyone to perform an act of kindness for someone in need. Individual acts can make a difference and lead to a better world and positively impact the human race.