A commitment to equity has long been a cornerstone of the mission and work of Hope Communities. What does that mean? This definition is from a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation blog post:
Equity is defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair.” The concept of equity is synonymous with fairness and justice. It is helpful to think of equity as not simply a desired state of affairs or lofty value. To be achieved and sustained, equity needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept.
The concept of equity is complex. It encompasses multiple perspectives (housing equity, racial equity, economic equity, academic equity, systemic equity…) and requires multi-faceted strategies to effect change.
Equity has been important to Hope Communities since the inception of the organization. The founders saw the disparities that people of color faced in the late sixties and knew they could help to equalize the playing field. They started with providing stable housing in communities from which people of color were being forced out. They then offered programs and services to improve access to education, resources, employment, social benefits, and opportunity.
Much of the equity work Hope is engaged in today relates to economic equity, though we have demonstrated long commitments to racial equity. We have honed programs and services for clients (residents of Hope and the broader community); provided all those programs and services for free so as to not discourage participation by anyone; leveraged community partners and made connections to those partners with clients to build social capital and extend our ability to provide resources; advocated for families with systems/organizations that make accessing services difficult; and engaged volunteers to help us provide extra layers of support to families to bring parity to their experiences with school, work, and civic involvement. We have also looked internally, at our own staffing patterns, policies, practices, and procedures to ensure we are modeling the behavior we hope to see in the world related to equity.
It is important to note that the impetus for the actions Hope has taken is input from the people we serve. Most programs and services offerings are created in response to client need and often co-designed to ensure staff are providing the specific support that would be beneficial, timely and within cultural norms.
Why equality without equity is not enough.
We used to focus a lot on equality. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things to enjoy fill, healthy lives. The goal is to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. If we really think about it, we are NOT all starting from the same place. The playing field is not equal. Equity involves trying to understand the variables or disparities individuals experience and then being intentional in giving people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.
As Shane Neumeier suggested in a recent blog posted on INHERSIGHT, “Equality is the idea that because everybody has the same worth, everybody deserves the same treatment. But equity is the idea that everybody has the same worth and therefore they deserve to have treatment they need in order to be their best selves.”
Hope Communities serves more than 1,400 people a year who are low-income, are principally people of color, and have most often had less power or privilege throughout their lives. Many of those we serve do not count English as their first language and have disparate religious, cultural and social practices. We know that to fully respect and provide support co-design paths to stability and beyond. We don’t assume to know what every client needs and have been intentional in our efforts to meet people where they are and provide the tools they need to advance on a path to opportunity. We approach our work with the knowledge that every person will not need the same kind of support or the same resources to achieve similar results. It will take more or less with each client to help them reach economic stability and advance on their personal and family goals.
Here are some tangible things we have been doing that support equity:
- Employees have participated in all-staff meetings and work sessions to understand implicit bias; diversity, inclusiveness and equity; micro-aggressions; and how to build inclusive environments. Each employee has created a personal equity plan to address their part in providing more equitable programs, services, systems and environment for the people we serve and interact with.
- We have changed HR practices to further equity. We’ve altered how we write job descriptions, advertise positions and interview candidates. We include residents of Hope in interviews for program positions that will directly impact them. For some residents, this may be one of the only places they have expressed agency to control factors affecting their lives.
- We have been intentional about hiring staff with various backgrounds and language proficiencies to match those of our clients. Many of our staff list English as their second language. We want all staff to feel welcomed and valued. We also know some may need more support than others to accomplish mandated tasks and reach personal goals. On a relational level, we share food, customs and stories with each other in planned activities at staff meetings. We also understand that technical documents, like information about a health savings account, 401k investments, etc., when only provided in English, can cause confusion and the ultimate decision not to participate in programs that are meant to provide for upward economic mobility in the long term. Understanding this barrier to financial equity among staff, we had these vital informational documents translated so staff members can fully participate in the benefits offered, starting at day 1!
- Every staff member at Hope has developed an individual DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) plan to highlight their personal commitment and implementation strategies to further inclusivity and equity.
- We list general information about programs, services and resources on our web site, but what if someone doesn’t read English? We care about language justice and recognized the lack of accessibility as a deficit. We have recently installed a translation toolbar on our site to translate each page into several widely spoken and read languages! While the tool may not be perfect, it removes the most basic barrier to access for many of our clients and residents.
- We have translated key documents in various languages to support client need, and host in-person and virtual workshops in high-demand languages. We include interpreters or staff with specific language skills at most program activities to ensure visitors understand what we are trying to convey, what resources are available and what steps must be taken to address required and preferred steps forward towards self-sufficiency, health, personal well-being and economic mobility.
- Knowing that many of our low-income clients do not have access to adequate technology, we offer computers for use by individual clients, teach basic technology skills and work with community partners to access technology access and support on behalf of those we serve. The first technology class we offered was in direct response to seniors at one of the properties who realized they couldn’t communicate well with, or provide support to, their grandchildren. Over the last year, we have been asked by many other clients to provide basic technology skills so they could help their children participate in home-schooling and gain access to essential programs, services and resources online after offices closed for the pandemic.
- Understanding that many of our clients do not have adequate transportation, we bring workshops, service-providers, clinics, resources, potential employers and navigators to them at property locations. We don’t want them to lose valuable connections and opportunities due to a lack of transportation.
- One of our Program Managers is promoting educational equity by advocating for students in Denver Public Schools, all the way to the school board, because she saw the students were not getting the support they needed. Education is transformational and a doorway to greater opportunity and future success. Our kids need an equitable chance at that success.
- A Program Manager also initiated a program to support incarcerated men, primarily men of color, who were preparing for release to one of the neighborhoods Hope serves. She was asked by many residents of the community to get involved as many of the young men were relatives or impending members of their household and they required significant support after release. The Manager provided resource navigation, facilitated certification programs to help inmates attain the skills they would need to find employment and has worked fervently to ensure the men did not experience homelessness once released.
- Hope has also worked with a community volunteer to maintain a weekly group for young men of color at the NE Park Hill site to provide guidance and tools for resiliency and keep them on a path to success. A central reason for establishing the group is to keep our young men out of gangs, thereby countering the effects of the “school to prison pipeline.”
It is very clear that the journey to equity is a long one. We have made gains and will continue to work ardently on exploration, discovery, analysis, and implementation of strategies to continually improve the way we conduct business and act as a catalyst for positive change in the world.