Though Pittsburgh’s booming East End has changed for many (Google, Whole Foods Market, housing prices doubling since 2008), the poverty rate has remained at almost 30%. Research over the past decade has shown that the root cause of generational poverty is social isolation: low-income families are isolated from the networks, access, and “hidden rules” of the middle class. The axis of wealth and poverty that exists in the East End is the perfect place for East Liberty Development, Inc. to implement the Circles program.
Circles pairs a low-income individual (or couple) with at least two middle or upper middle income “allies” for two years to work on budgeting, asset growth, workforce, and educational priorities. Everyone receives training prior to matching up in a circle, and everyone commits to working together for a minimum of 24 months on the low-income person’s individual path out of poverty. Allies are encouraged to use their networks, budgeting skills, and social capital to help this happen.
A “Circles Group” is a weekly meeting of up to 15 low-income participants that includes dinner and childcare. Weekly meetings have a strategic monthly rhythm, and allies are asked to attend at least twice a month. Participants build a sense of community, and also work together with allies to address larger issues in the community (e.g. transportation, policies, housing). All participants are asked to be on the Circles Community Guiding Coalition, which is comprised of five teams that guide the Group.
We believe Circles can help connect our low-income neighbors to the boom of business, jobs, and real estate, and to help ensure equitable access to economic prosperity in our newly revitalized neighborhood. East Liberty is being rebuilt physically, but it is important to also focus on rebuilding social connections in East Liberty, Larimer, Lincoln, and Homewood, as well as develop a plan to use this model regionally.
ELDI will partner with East End Cooperative Ministry (EECM), Repair the World (RTW), Open Hand Ministries (OHM), the Veterans Administration, and local churches in order to launch the pilot Circles Group this year.
If you or your organization would like to know more about local efforts to implement the Circles program, please email Ted Melnyk at ted(dot)melnyk(at)eastliberty(dot)org or call 412-361-8061 ext 14.