Street Talk: Poverty isn’t a game

Supply and demand.

A new interactive learning tool will give individuals and businesses a real-life look into the struggles that thousands of families living on the edge of poverty go through every day in West Michigan.

Making Ends Meet is a collaboration between the Heart of West Michigan United Way and local design and development firm Well Design Studio.

“It’s no secret that people in poverty have a hard time meeting their basic needs, but so do many families with incomes above the federal poverty level,” said Maribeth Groen. marketing director, Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) is the United Way’s term for those individuals who work hard to make a living, but still can’t make ends meet. The interactive virtual experience of Making Ends Meet will help people understand what it is like to live as an ALICE individual or family. Groen said 37% of Kent County households fall into this category.

Making Ends Meet allows individuals to follow the lives of four families for one month as they try to balance money and stress. Participants are asked to choose between four characters — a single person, a single mother, an older couple, and a family with two children— and allows them to understand the burdens placed on all of these household types. They are then challenged to see if they can make it through all 30 days.

“This era of COVID-19 has further increased the number of families struggling in our community,” Groen said. “We designed this tool in a way that would help build empathy toward struggling families while breaking some of the myths and stigma around poverty.”

Heart of West Michigan United way plans to use the interactive tool at workplace campaigns during the organization’s annual campaign drive.

“We feel that our team at Well Design is very community-minded and in tune with what goes on in West Michigan, but this tool absolutely opened our eyes to some of the harsh realities families are faced with when it comes to making ends meet,” said Josh Leffingwell, partner with Well Design Studio. “It is one of the most intense projects we have worked on and we’re grateful for the opportunity to work with the United Way in designing it and introducing it to the community.”

Pollution prevention

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected 42 organizations across 39 states to receive grant funding totaling $9.3 million, supporting pollution prevention across the country.

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) was the Michigan recipient.

The grants will fund projects that provide businesses and other facilities with information, training and tools to help them develop and adopt cost-effective changes in production, operation and use of materials to reduce costs and the use of water, energy and other natural resources.

“As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act, we are proud to announce more than $9 million in P2 grants which will help businesses in communities across the United States protect the environment and reduce waste and costs,” said Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator. “The work done as a result of EPA’s P2 grants will create best practices that current and future organizations can use to cut pollution and advance innovation and economic growth.”

The EPA said it would award the individual grants ranging from $25,000 to $498,000 once all legal and administrative requirements were satisfied.

The organization said grantees should document and share P2 best practices that are identified and developed through these grants, so others can replicate practices and outcomes. Each grantee will be required to develop at least one case study during the grant period on P2 practices that are new or not widely known or adopted, or where detailed information on the P2 practices could benefit other businesses or P2 technical assistance providers. The work done under these grants will focus on at least one of the five P2 priority areas, also referred to as National Emphasis Areas, and support several of the agency’s Smart Sectors. These areas include food and beverage manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, automotive manufacturing, aerospace product and parts manufacturing, and metal manufacturing.

This year marks 30 years since the passage of the Pollution Prevention Act, which focuses industry, government and public attention on reducing the amount of pollution through cost-effective changes in production, operation and raw materials use.

It’s a start

Housing permits for single-family homes in Michigan remain relatively strong despite the economic downturn, according to the Home Builders Association of Michigan (HBAM). A total of 1,381 permits for new single-family housing were issued in August compared to 1,395 in August 2019. A total of 8,995 single-family home permits have been issued across Michigan, from January through August.

“We are encouraged by the continued stability of housing permits being issued in Michigan,” said Bob Filka, HBAM CEO. “The home building industry has a tremendous economic impact in our state. In 2019, new home construction contributed a total of $4.25 million in income to Michigan residents, $836.4 million in taxes and other revenue for state and local governments, and created 54,372 jobs. But, the reality is more activity is warranted and we’re not building enough homes in moderate price ranges to address housing shortages around the state.”

HBAM and numerous community, economic development and nonprofit organizations called for a bi-partisan policy initiative last month. HBAM is hopeful the coalition’s recommendations ( will lead to a number of sensible solutions.

“It is the lack of housing in affordable price ranges that will ultimately dampen economic growth,” said Filka. “The median cost of a newly constructed home in Michigan is approaching $350,000, and while there is demand in these higher price ranges, it’s not a price that the average Michigan household can afford. This is putting more and more pressure on existing housing stock, creating bidding wars and keeping many from being able to become homeowners when those who might otherwise build new are forced to purchase existing homes. The bottom line is communities need more tools and new strategies to attract the moderate-priced home construction that is needed.”

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