County rolls out multi-agency effort to bust cycle of poverty

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A coalition of public, private and government organizations is aiming to break the cycle of poverty in Washington County.

In the county, more than 45 percent of children are either currently living in poverty or at risk for intergenerational poverty, which continues from one generation to the next.

Local leaders came together in May 2016 to hear Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speak on the matter, and they have been meeting regularly ever since to form a plan of action focusing on education, health, early childhood development and family economic stability.

Read more: State, local leaders aim to stop poverty cycles in families

As part of the plan, volunteer “allies” will offer a variety of support and training to families for about 18 months.

“That’s proven to be a successful model in helping people kind of break out of poverty,” Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said.

Iverson called these volunteers alternately advocates, allies and mentors.

“Somebody they can kind of rely on to help them,” he said. “Whether it’s job training that they need or other things like that.”

The initiative focuses on children, Iverson said, and the Washington County School District will be an important part of the effort.

“We’re going to be working very closely with the school district rolling this out,” he said.

Regarding intergenerational poverty, local leaders identified the highest concentration according to elementary school, Iverson said, adding that he first step will be to work with Washington Elementary School.

“The power of what we’re doing is bringing people together,” Iverson said.

Eighteen different organizations are involved in the intergenerational poverty initiative in Washington County, including:

  • Southwest Public Health
  • United Ways of Utah
  • Washington County School District
  • Work Force Services
  • Utah State University Extension Office
  • Dixie State University
  • Southwest Behavioral Health
  • Five County Association of Governments
  • Intermountain Healthcare
  • Juvenile Justice Services
  • Sun Country Home Solutions
  • Southern Utah University Head Start
  • St. George City
  • Interfaith Council
  • Switchpoint
  • Dove Center
  • The Learning Center for Families
  • Division of Child and Family Services

“What we’re doing now that we haven’t been doing is that we’re all kind of working together and talking to each other and sharing resources in a way that we haven’t done,” Iverson said.

Immediate steps outlined in the plan include increasing the availability of preschool and Head Start programs and establishing a mentoring program for parents.

Five-year county goals include enrolling children in health insurance, having an afterschool computer science program in every Title I school – those with high numbers of students from low-income families – and increased family stability.

The Switchpoint Community Resource Center, along with Executive Director Carol Hollowell, will be heavily involved in the antipoverty effort, Iverson said.

The initiative will use a national mentoring model known as “Circles USA,” which Switchpoint is already using. The program is designed for struggling and recently homeless families and is intended to teach participants how to establish connections and resources through allies.

Switchpoint began using the Circles program in November 2014, and it has already been successful in helping 78 families by giving them the tools to help them understand what Hollowell called the hidden rules of the middle class.

“If you’re into a four-generation-deep cycle of poverty, the only way to stop it is to put the brakes on that family and teach them the core thoughts of middle-class thinking,” Hollowell said in an earlier interview. “We’re trying to get them to grow their circle of friends so they can increase their opportunities.”

The Circles class gives those living in poverty the opportunity to work with allies who can help them with anything from interview skills such as language, diction and even how to dress properly to money management and budgeting skills. It helps them learn how to play the game better, Hollowell said.

Read more: Breaking the cycle of poverty; Switchpoint seeks volunteer ‘allies’

The program lasts 18 months, after which families who complete the Circles class can return as mentors and refer other families who can benefit from the program.

Watch the Circles program in action here.

The directive to fight poverty comes from the state level. The Utah Legislature adopted the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act five years ago. It recognizes that children in the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency lack the stability and opportunity to overcome their circumstances.

The act directs the Department of Workforce Services to track intergenerational poverty statistics and share the information with other state agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services, Workforce Services, Juvenile Courts and Education.

Washington County is in the top 10 Utah counties for having the highest rate of children at risk for intergenerational poverty.

Low paying service jobs, coupled with high housing costs, is partially to blame for Washington County’s poverty rate, Hollowell said, adding that about 80 percent of the population at Switchpoint are “working poor.”

They have jobs, Hollowell said, but because of “outlandish” rent increases, especially since January of this year, they can’t afford a place to live and have nowhere else to go.

It is the hope of the intergenerational poverty initiative to help 500 families in a five-year goal, Hollowell said, in part by creating pods all over the county where the Circles program can be implemented.

It is a key focus in breaking the cycle of poverty, Hollowell said.

St. George News reporter Hollie Reina contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • SouthernUtahWageSlave July 19, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Washington County is turning into a blackhole. The intelligent voices and people that can really contribute and diversify the economy never have a chance to stay. A reputable degree doesn’t help you gain employment in Southern Utah, it actually works against you because an employer knows they can’t simply lock you in at $10 an hour forever. Southern Utah has become a blackhole for single mothers , those bouncing in and out of purgatory, and those with diminished goals and hope to mindlessly relegate themselves to $10/hr jobs . The wind up scared and affraid to ask for a raise because they are paycheck to paycheck. Utah is a state that promotes big families and we are very good at making babies but creating jobs is not and never will be as easy. At some point whether we like it or not the city or government needs to do something to control the growth and promote competitive wages. Enough with the warehouse jobs and approving development after development. Stop promoting business relocation to Southern Utah as merely a great place to exploit the worker, is this how you serve your local demographic that voted you in office??

    • Brian July 19, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      How many people do you employ again? Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

      • SouthernUtahWageSlave July 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

        I am probably part of the problem seeing as I can’t wait to leave which will bring in younger people that barely can make ends meet to buy my home, eventually the slightest economic hiccup will cause another real estate bubble, it along with the others that can’t afford homes will foreclose and the haves can grow their assets so the divide of haves vs. have nots can continue.

        • ladybugavenger July 20, 2017 at 11:38 am

          Get out while you can!

    • ladybugavenger July 19, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      The only difference between Washington county and every other county in the US is the extreme amount of Mormon churches. That’s it!

      Economically, Houses are more expensive than some places but half the price of California. and rent is average. And wages are low everywhere! Become a dentist, doctor, lawyer, or realtor and that’s where you will find demographics play a big role in your income.

      Control growth? That would be by limiting how many children you can have. We are not into that extreme of communism, yet.

      You can’t stop people from coming to St George, but you can surely make their life miserable when they get there. I’m from California, but my children were born in Richfield and in st George so I felt connected to the place. As for my husband, y’all didn’t make him feel welcome. Maybe, it was his bad experience with Mormons when he was a child. Idk. Be nice and welcoming to the transplants you may learn something.

      • SouthernUtahWageSlave July 19, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        You are wrong, you can control growth… stop the overdevelopment and incentivizing of dead end jobs! Look to build industries and diversify the economy.

  • Who July 19, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Wow, the hatred these days is astounding.

  • Redbud July 19, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I have to agree, that the wages in St. George are too low. Sure, more businesses have been opening since the recession ended, but most are $10 an hour jobs. They don’t have to pay anyone more than that, because if you quit, someone else will take your job, and the cycle repeats. Washington County truly is turning into a blackhole for employment.

    • ladybugavenger July 19, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      Turning into? I thought it always was. Hmmmm was I wrong?

  • ladybugavenger July 19, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    i filed my tax return and my earnings are below poverty. It’s crazy how life works.

  • hiker75 July 19, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Planned Parenthood is not listed. I think you need to provide coaching to people to think about how they will support additional family members. Stop having kids if you cannot afford to care for them.

  • ladybugavenger July 19, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    I see what you’re saying. What you kind of industries would you build? And what do you mean by diversify the economy?

    • ladybugavenger July 19, 2017 at 7:06 pm

      For wageslave.

      I’m thinking get rid of Walmart and their welfare program . The Walmart way- pay low wages and go to welfare to supplement your income.

  • utahdiablo July 20, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    All that “Effort” that Washington County is talking about just means more and more taxes on your property, food, gas, income, whatever….that is their only solution, tax tax tax….have you looked at your property tax in the last few years? 10 – 20% increase, which in the middle class home valued at $240K amounts to a $100 increase in two years….who here in Washington County is getting a 10 – 20% wage raise?…the SITLA employees and the School district and Washington County administrators that’s who

  • Snarkles July 21, 2017 at 9:18 am

    If it weren’t for Walmart, there would be no place for seniors to work in southern Utah. Almost everyone working at our Walmart is a senior. Try being over 50 and finding a job that isn’t under $10 an hour… Or a newly single mom fighting with hundreds of applicants for several cheap wage part-time jobs so you can support your kids. So glad I at least have social security now. The nightmare is over if the politicians will stop raiding social security and replacing it with IOU’s.

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