Last week, the Oklahoma Asset Building Coalition(OkABC) convened a gathering of some 75 individuals from the non-profit sector and from state, local, and tribal government agencies for a day-long meeting on “Economic Security for Oklahomans: Asset Building Approaches for Assisting Families with Low Incomes”. The meeting flowed out of a series of regional listening sessions held over the past month, which brought people together in Tahlequah, Enid, Lawton, Hugo, Oklahoma City, and Shawnee to discuss the major challenges that individuals, families, and communities face in achieving economic security.
While the Coalition has a particular focus on how assets – whether tangible, financial, or personal – can help move people towards economic security, the barriers identified as standing in people’s way to being economically secure were far-ranging. Educational attainment, unstable families, lack of jobs, and substance abuse were most frequently cited over the course of the listening sessions as creating obstacles to success. Looking at existing programs and policies, the most significant gaps were seen to be in the areas of housing, system coordination and communication, and asset accumulation policies. Education, employment, substance abuse, and prisoner re-entry were also identified by many participants as areas where current programs and policies fell short.
The meeting allowed participants, working in groups, to select one area where there are currently gaps in programs and policies, and to begin to sketch out a strategy to address the problem. Although the ideas and strategies were far-ranging, one common theme was the need for better coordination of service between the wide network of public and non-profit providers involved in helping families – better information about the resources out there, better communication between agencies, and a more holistic approach to serving the needs of individuals and families. Many of the strategies had a particular angle in rural communities and for Native tribes, but the challenges across the state were broadly similar.
OkABC, which is led by a steering committee of which I am a member, will continue its efforts to share, learn about, and expand strategies for promoting economic security and building assets. This fall, the Coalition, in conjunction with the University of Washington School of Social Work, will be releasing an updated version of the Self-Sufficiency Standard, a report that calculates the amount of income families in each county require to meet the cost of their basic needs. The last Oklahoma Self-Sufficiency Standard report was issued in 2002.
Anyone interested in being part of the work of the Coalition should contact Steven Shepelwich, Senior Community Development Advisor with the Oklahoma City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have thoughts on these issues, feel free to post a comment here on the blog.