The term “culture of poverty” (used to describe shared ideals within poor communities that keep people stuck in poverty), generated by an anthropologist in the late 1950s, was one that, for some time, you apparently were sort of not supposed to use. Why? Because in 1965, the idea primarily referred to black families and critics viewed it as an affront to minorities that blamed them for their own suffering.

But the term has recently made its way back into the politically acceptable lingo, or, as Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey recently told the New York Times, “We’ve reached a stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect.” Probably because it makes a lot of sense, and, more importantly, because it is a core problem that can arguably be addressed and changed.

The whole idea was presented to me by two black women — Chelsea White, Director of Development for the Housing Crises Center and one of her clients, Lorion Horsley, who is living in Permanent Supportive Housing at Trinity Palms in Lake Highlands — who are working hard to break the cultural ideas that keep people poor. Horsley calls it a “ghetto-poor mentality”, which is essentially the same thing as “culture of poverty”.

Often-avoidable behaviors such as living paycheck-to-paycheck and spending everything on pay day, or taking out high-interest payday or car-title loans are pitfalls Horsley and White hope to break, personally and community wide, respectively.

White says the Housing Crises Center practices a teach-a-person-to-fish-type philosophy.

“We operate under the idea that there is a culture of poverty that keeps people in a cycle of debt, living check-to-check and dependent,” she explains.

Her mission, and that of the HCC, is to empower people to break free and solve their own housing problems. Part of the effort includes initiating various programs, along with area churches and charitable organizations, such as the financial responsibility focused “Living Wisely” workshop we covered in the July Advocate.

As a result of this course and new ideas stemming from sessions with case managers and counselors, Horsley is changing the lifestyle that once financially crippled her. She is living in a sharply decorated, sparkling clean apartment home, attending school and saving for her two children to attend college.