It may be one of the scariest moments a child can face: coming out to a parent as LGBT+. As a teenager, Christian A. Real Merino confronted that moment with his mother.
“At the beginning my mom didn’t accept it and didn’t understand it,” said Christian. “But the thing with my mom is, if she doesn’t understand something, she tries to learn.”
Christian’s mom, Blanca, enlisted the help of community leader Baltazar De Anda-Santana to learn more, but the pair soon found the resources she needed weren’t available
in Dane County. Information wasn’t in Blanca’s language, Spanish, and Blanca and Christian, who both emigrated from Mexico, did not connect with available programs.
“I didn’t feel like [other organizations] were meant for me,” said Christian. “There were not people who looked like me or who had the same experiences as me.”
That’s why Christian and Blanca teamed up with Baltazar and Diego Campoverde-Cisneros to form what is now Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ of Dane County. Orgullo Latinx builds an equitable and safe community for Latinx LGBT+ people, though programming, education, advocacy, and support.
Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ of Dane County is part of Community Shares of Wisconsin’s Inspiring Voices series, featuring local grassroots organizations working to advance racial equity. Like many emerging organizations, visibility and funds are especially crucial to Orgullo Latinx to advance their work. Consider a donation today and share your support with others. And thanks to a generous matching challenge from MG & E, you can double the impact of your gift to Orgullo Latinx LGBT+.
Few topics illustrate what’s behind the “cycle of poverty” more so than eviction. Ever more commonplace today, evictions often set into motion a precipitous downward spiral for low-income families already living on the edge.
In our final segment on 45 Years of Housing Justice, CSW examines how our member groups help prevent evictions, and aid its victims.
Evictions are also a topic of discussion this fall thanks to Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted, the Go Big Read book at UW-Madison. For Desmond, a UW-Madison graduate, his low-income upbringing led him to question why some people become mired in an unending cycle of poverty—and the book is his answer.
We all know the obvious about evictions: You have to find another place to live—and fast. Less understood are evictions’ disastrous consequences.
There’s a key reason why white people “are desperately uncomfortable talking about race and racism, or looking at the root causes of violence and injustice,” said Bill Tisdale with the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison. It’s because “we don’t even live near one another.”
Segregation “isn’t inevitable—it was created, and continues to be created, in the present by systemic forms of discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization,” Tisdale noted in a recent article.
“Housing is an essential human right,” added Erika Sanders, Tisdale’s colleague at the Fair Housing Center. “Where you live affects everything about your life: where you work, where you can buy food, your access to healthcare, where you go to school. And where you go to school in turn affects the kind of job you’re able to get in the future. Where you find housing impacts everything related to your quality of life.”
Sadly, a 2016 report reveals that the homeownership rate for African Americans today “is lower than the national homeownership rate during the Great Depression years of the 1930s.”
One reason why: another recent article gives hard data about African Americans’ difficulty getting home loans. “As recently as 2006, a city government report found that affluent, non-white Milwaukeeans were 2.7 times likelier to be denied home loans than white people with similar incomes.” The article went on to note that African Americans have been “inevitably constrained by a legacy of racism that prevented their ancestors from buying quality housing and then passing down wealth that might have allowed today’s generation to move into more stable communities.”
“When jobs are in a predominately white part of a segregated metropolitan area that lacks decent public transportation, poverty becomes racialized,” Sanders added. “People of color living in segregated neighborhoods, distant from job opportunities, have far higher rates of unemployment.”
And as a testament to the effects of racial segregation, Sanders pointed to the fact that in Dane and Milwaukee Counties, “low-income white households are scattered throughout the community. That’s not true for low-income people of color.
“A safe home is a lot more than just a roof over your head. It gives stability to people’s lives,” said Andy Heidt with Bayview Foundation.
Think about how housing stability allows people to contribute more to our community. It’s easier to keep your job. Children can concentrate in school, and maybe you as parents can go back to school.
“People in quality affordable housing can save money, move up the economic ladder, and follow their dreams,” Heidt noted.
And without decent, safe, stable housing? You deal with leaky roofs, mold, bugs and rodents, broken fixtures—which you ask your landlord to fix, but many don’t bother to comply. You probably fear being kicked out even for small infractions if you push the landlord too much about needed repairs. And you’re definitely under stress.
“Getting to work every day, and living in substandard housing, is hard enough. If you don’t have a rent subsidy, and you’re paying half of your income just for rent, you’re really living on the edge of homelessness,” said Heidi Wegleitner with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
“Sometimes if just one thing goes wrong—getting sick, or having your car break down—there is no way you can meet all of your financial obligations,” added Diane Eddings with Common Wealth.
Here CSW member groups describe the reality of housing instability and what they are doing to ensure housing stability for the low-income people they work with.
Imagine you’re a low-income person applying for Section 8 housing vouchers in Dane County—which will allow you to pay 30% of your income for housing, and the government pays for the rest. How do you get a voucher?
1. First, you wait four or five years until the waitlist opens up. When the day comes, make sure you’re free to get online as soon as they open the system. You have about four hours to keep trying before they shut the system down, because they’ve been flooded with more applications than they can fulfill.
2. Once you have applied, you wait . . . often a few more years, depending on how many people are on the waitlist ahead of you. When you get to the top of the list, you have only 60 days—or 120 if you can get an extension—to find a landlord willing to give you a lease. And that’s not easy.
3. If you can’t find a willing landlord in that period, your voucher gets revoked and you have to start the entire application process all over again.
“Affordable housing is woefully underfunded,” explained Heidi Wegleitner with Legal Action of Wisconsin. “Unlike the food stamp or Medicaid programs, which give benefits to all eligible applicants, funding for federally subsidized housing doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the need.”
“Madison is fortunate to have Community Shares of Wisconsin [CSW] groups at the forefront, providing high-quality affordable housing for hundreds of families,” said Crystel Anders, CSW Executive Director. “In our 45th anniversary year we’re examining the challenges people face because of a lack of affordable housing—and we’re also highlighting the incredible work of our member groups.”
In addition to providing critical services, CSW’s housing groups are often on the front lines, advocating to improve laws and public policies for low-income people. Anders added that our groups’ advocacy work yields values to the community far beyond housing. A National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy article explained that “Investments in advocacy can have enormous payoffs. A recent series of reports from NCRP shows that [for] every dollar invested by foundations in advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement . . . the lowest return on investment [was] $89 to $1 and the highest return [was] $157 to $1.”
Madison’s Role and the Work of CSW Groups
Too little affordable housing . . . housing discrimination against the poor and people of color—these are problems deeply rooted in this country, and Madison is no exception. Those who support justice might wonder how and why these issues remain so entrenched, and what’s being done to eliminate them.
“For 45 years Community Shares of Wisconsin [CSW] has proudly supported organizations working to address the root causes of housing inequity in our community,” said CSW Executive Director Crystel Anders. “To mark this anniversary, we’re launching ’45 Years of Housing Justice,’ a five-part series. In it we’ll reflect on how our member groups have improved housing issues for our city and state, and how they’re tackling today’s problems.
“Access to housing is a complex issue, and that’s why it’s critical to fully understand the history behind this essential work,” she added.
The “45 Years of Housing Justice” series begins with this piece on historical context.
The next four pieces focus on how our groups have made strides, and how they continue their work to:
“If a child is unsure of his or her cultural identity, they are focused solely on other kids’ comments about how odd they look—and the last thing on their mind is their math assignment. It’s a key reason why Hmong students’ academic performance is far below that of their peers,” Peng Her explained.
“Hmong students in the Madison Metropolitan School District [MMSD] are about 93% below grade level in reading proficiency, and 74% below in math,” he continued. “However, research shows that students who understand their native language and culture score higher in academics.”
And this is why Peng and his wife, Mai Zong Vue, founded a six-week summer program with very impressive results: the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program (HLCEP) in Madison.
The pre- and post-HLCEP test results are remarkable. “But numbers can’t describe the transformation we see when students go from being painfully shy to outgoing and confident,” said Mai Zong. “We give them a safe place to learn together and find pride together. Once they’re back in school, both parents and teachers tell us how much better these kids are doing academically and socially. Even if they do still hear prejudiced comments, they handle it much better.”
Peng and Mai Zong understand all too well the pain inflicted by prejudice. “We Hmong were not allowed in the United States in 1975 when the last of the U.S. military was pulled out of Southeast Asia. Instead we were sent to refugee camps in Thailand,” said Mai Zong.
The reason? “People thought we lacked the sophistication needed to learn a new way of life,” she explained. “We were perceived as being too primitive to survive in an industrialized country.” It’s one reason why Peng and Mai Zong are working diligently today to make sure that Hmong children have every chance to succeed.
And although the HLCEP is very effective and accessible, some Hmong families simply cannot afford the program’s weekly fee of $75 per student. Your gift will help ensure more Hmong youngsters can attend the six-week summer program, which is an independent initiative of the Read on for the personal stories—and the numbers—that showcase this program’s success.
Of Will Green’s many talents, one has a major influence on our community: his ability to create strong bonds with young black men and help turn their lives around. It’s why Will founded Mentoring Positives, focusing on youth in the Darbo neighborhood.
Will is working with young men other programs have a hard time impacting. “These are the kids Madison doesn’t really want to talk about,” said Will. “These young men are looking for support in the wrong place—on the street—and if we don’t connect with them they will be doing things we as a society don’t want them to do.”
And what is Will’s impact? “Honestly it changed me as a person,” said Tyrone, now 20, but who met Will at age 14. “If it wasn’t for Will, and me coming here every day, I’d still be out there doing what I was doing . . . which was everything a 14-year-old wasn’t supposed to be doing.”
“A lot of the youth I work with won’t even make it to the University less than 5 miles away,” Will said. “But I feel like a lot of what we do is immeasurable. You never know how you touch somebody and change the direction of their life.”
You can help Mentoring Positives continue transforming lives by making a gift to their capital campaign. Will is halfway to his $100,000 goal, and your gift, with others’, can allow Will to raise the remaining $50,000. And your gift is doubled, since American Family Dreams Foundation is also providing a $1,000 challenge grant. Read more.
“I beat the odds in many ways,” said Kia Stearn, “and I’m working to help other women do the same.”
A gift to recognize your mom on Mother’s Day–what better reason to assist an emerging nonprofit, Positive Women for Change (PW4C), which empowers underserved women and helps them get back on the road to financial security. Kia, who founded PW4C, knows how critical 1:1 financial training can be to help people reach modest—but critical—financial goals.
Because she’s been there. Kia, on her own, had to provide for three children, now all college graduates. “It is incredibly difficult to raise a family with little to no income,” she said.
“I feel that my life experience has been my education, and I think that is often true for many underserved women. Though some of what I learned was through trial and error, that experience of raising and caring for a family should never be undervalued. And it is the reason why I began PW4C.
“If I hadn’t benefited from our community’s resources, I could have been homeless,” Kia added. “I want to give back—and if I can help others like me overcome their challenges, it’s worth every minute I put into it.” Read More
1971: Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW) was founded as peace and community activists joined forces as the war in Vietnam was winding down. They found creative ways to fund the work to end the war, and they wanted to turn their attention to local nonprofits working for social change. Their first fundraising strategy was the Community CHIP® program. By relying on many small donations, Community CHIP democratized philanthropy.
Thanks to the innovative work of these activists, CSW has the distinction of being the nation’s first social action fund. What does that mean?
Welcome to Community Shares of Wisconsin’s (CSW’s) blog—”Inspiring Voices”—as we celebrate 45 years! During that time we have distributed $16.5 million to support nonprofits that focus on action and advocacy.
As the nation’s first social action fund, CSW stands apart from many other funders: