Treating poverty like an illness

"Transition to Success" treats poverty like an illness and clients like patients. While typical social service programs focus on symptoms of poverty, Matrix creates an action plan to lift its clients out of poverty. (Photo courtesy of Public News Service)

“Transition to Success” treats poverty like an illness and clients like patients. While typical social service programs focus on symptoms of poverty, Matrix creates an action plan to lift its clients out of poverty. (Photo courtesy of Public News Service)

Renee Blake

Public News Service

ALBUQUERQUE — While typical social service programs focus on symptoms of poverty such as hunger and homelessness, Matrix Social Services has developed a pilot program that views it from a different angle. Called “Transition to Success,” it treats poverty like an illness and its clients like patients. Matrix hopes to share this uncommon approach with New Mexico and other states. 

Matrix creates an action plan for its clients. Marcella Wilson, Ph.D., Matrix president, said the first thing they ask people is, “What’s your dream?”

“If that person wishes to be a nurse, for example, we start with basic needs: food, clothing, shelter. We then move to making sure the client learns how to work. Then learns how to read, gets a GED, masters financial literacy. From there, we help the client access all the other services they need to be successful in higher education,” Wilson explained.

The program helps people get out of poverty by offering them action-oriented counseling services, with plans that lead to an individual’s or family’s identified goals. Matrix also provides referrals to the aid programs specific to clients’ needs. Wilson said all of that personal attention does not cost any more than traditional service programs.

Wilson is convinced that poverty should be treated more like a public health problem, since it has profound effects on the impoverished — especially children, she said.

“When children are living in poverty and face food insecurity, they have decreased brain and cognitive development. Their psychosocial development is impaired; mental health disorders increase. The risk for developmental delays is increased. Fighting poverty will drive improved health care outcomes, there is no doubt,” she said.

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