I spent last Tuesday riding around Washington and Waldorf, Md., visiting housing projects Woodson’s organization supports and studying his success. I met former drug addicts, dealers, prostitutes and pimps—all of whom testify to having been through failed government programs—who now say they are clean, sober and off the streets.
Thomas also visited initiatives launched by Pastor Shirley Holloway, “a no-nonsense, black woman who heads Kingdom Village in Waldorf. It provides housing and, more importantly, a home environment for many who have not had a place to live—other than prison, in some cases—in years. She also runs House of Help/City of Hope in a formerly tough (until she took over) neighborhood in Southeast Washington.”
Testimonies of the effectiveness of Holloway’s outreach are important news, especially at a time when the financial crunch means tightening the belt on government’s vast array of programs. The fact that the rolls of dependents on government cash and benefits have soared throughout the past four decades is evidence that, regardless of intentions, the conventional anti-poverty agenda has failed. In fact, its main effect has been to sustain families in an impoverished state rather than liberate them from dependency.
This is, in part, because much of the trillions of dollars spent to fight poverty, according to Woodson, “doesn’t go to poor people but to organizations that claim to serve poor people.”
But the problem with government’s approach to poverty goes beyond administrative inefficiency. It focuses on material need, but it is inadequate to help develop the full capacities and potential of the individuals it serves.
In contrast, the neighborhood leaders who are part of the nationwide network of Woodson’s Center for Neighborhood Enterprise have empowered families and individuals—in the worst circumstances and against the greatest odds—to reclaim their lives and move to self-sufficiency.
As Holloway’s efforts show, for those whose poverty is rooted in behavior and addiction, this journey begins with an internal transformation. That spiritual revitalization is accomplished through outreach that is personal, long-term, and inspired and motivated by faith.
As Thomas notes, Woodson’s efforts embody conservative principles and our nation’s founding values of personal responsibility, reciprocity, self-sufficiency, and mutual aid.
One aspect of the market economy that Woodson seeks to deploy to overcome social breakdown is the model of the entrepreneur:
Just as a venture capitalist provides assistance to an entrepreneur enabling a project that starts in a garage to become a Fortune 500 company, investment should be made in these smaller social units that have the seeds of innovation. As it stands, the rules of the social economy are inverted from those of the market economy, where creative prospects and potential are nurtured and supported.
Instead of devoting ever more resources to the failed government War on Poverty, resources should be freed to advance Woodson’s approach. For policymakers, this means eliminating roadblocks of regulation and rethinking a failed model that equates “credentials” with “qualification to serve,” clearing the way for more to join this cause.
Promoting an innovative and effective alternative to our nation’s anti-poverty agenda has real-world ramifications for the economy, the lives of families and their children, and America’s civil society.