Beverly Westbrooks  and Keith Arivinwine discuss the MAP report at St. Mary’s Center.
Beverly Westbrooks (left) and Keith Arivinwine (right) discuss the MAP report at St. Mary’s Center. (Jamie Townsend)

“We define poverty as a dollar amount, but if you make a dollar above that dollar amount are you still poor?”

This was just one of the questions raised at St. Mary’s Center on April 18, when academics, activists, and advocates gathered to hear the findings of a new report called “Pushed to the Bottom.” The report—which was facilitated by human rights organization All Together in Dignity (ATD) Fourth World—seeks to present a full picture of poverty, outside of a simple dollar amount. The study was conducted in five different locations in the U.S. and six countries worldwide. It is just one part of ATD’s Multidimensional Aspects of Poverty Research Project (MAP).

The event on the 18th was full to the brim. Homeless advocates from all over the East Bay were present, as were St. Mary’s Center Shelter residents and regular guests. There were also a number of MAP leaders in attendance.

In order to redefine poverty, the report ties together a whole range
of subjects, such as adequate health and well-being, employment-related hardships, lack of resources, disadvantaged areas, lack of a voice, social isolation, and stigma. These were the topics discussed by the diverse group of individuals who attended the event at St. Mary’s Center.

A current lack of adequate language to examine economic disparity was a reoccurring concern throughout the event. Visiting guests, US MAP Coordinators Maryann Broxton of Boston and Guillaume Charvon of New York, spoke about the need to redefine the way poverty is being talked about in relationship to subjugation—which MAP participants defined as how power is taken from certain groups by others. During his overview of the study Charvon remarked, “If we can name it, we can work to address it.”

Janny Castillo speaks about the MAP report at St. Mary’s Center.
Janny Castillo speaks about the MAP report at St. Mary’s Center. (Jamie Townsend)

The need to redefine poverty outside of a fixed economic bracket was another central concern the event addressed. Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law & Poverty addressed this concern when she raised the rhetorical question about whether a dollar amount can really determine whether or not somebody is “poor.” Broxton followed up on this idea during her keynote address, “Poverty goes much deeper than income level.”

MAP research was focused on collaboration between practitioners, academics and people directly impacted by poverty, a new, holistic approach to understanding the true nature of this pervasive system of inequality. Dedicated to MAP Activist and St. Mary’s Center client Ron Anderson, who passed away in 2018, “Pushed to the Bottom” connects to leading research. St. Mary’s Center MAP activist Carey Whiteside spoke about his firsthand experience of economic precarity in the face of rising house costs in the Bay Area, “I love my neighborhood, but it’s really hard to live here.”

Speaking on the issues of access to resources and social isolation, St. Mary’s Center staff members and MAP participants Danielle Amarant and James Cogley discussed the importance of MAP’s intersectional approach. “During this process we became resources for each other” Amarant recalled, addressing the importance of providing a platform for those often left out of policy making and advocacy work. “You must let suffering speak if you want to hear the truth,” added Cogley.

St. Mary’s Center executive director Sharon Cornu highlighted the next steps in advocacy for change. “These important insights into the lived expe- rience of poverty are the foundation of our action to make real change—to bring hope, healing and justice, as St. Mary’s Center says.”

As the afternoon’s schedule of activities came to a close, St. Mary’s Center Senior Advocate Ortencia Hoopi recited the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, whose words echo the study’s focus on empathy: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”