Breaking Down Barriers: Circle Leaders gain access to reliable transportation through partnership with the Hebrew Free Loan Association and Community Auto

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Kevin is a 24-year old young man from East Liberty who has experienced many of the challenges of growing up black in the inner city of Pittsburgh. He finally found a good, steady job with a reputable Pittsburgh paint contractor. However, Kevin didn’t have a reliable form of transportation. For the first three weeks on the job, Kevin paid $30 per day to get a ride from East Liberty to Southpointe in Washington, PA. Even so, this ride still required a 5:00am bus ride to get to the pickup spot. One Monday morning, Kevin’s ride didn’t show up. Desperate to not lose his job for a no-show, he borrowed a bike and began the 25-mile journey to Southpointe. After two hours of biking, Kevin’s boss showed mercy and picked him up.

When speaking to Kevin, he told us that, “My need for a car arose when I needed to travel outside of the city. I’m a painter and my job requires me to travel.” Today Kevin is the proud owner of a newly inspected 2003 Toyota Corolla. He added, “having a car allows me to travel to work to earn money, and without car payments, I’m able to save more a month.” For nearly a year, Kevin has been involved in Circles East Liberty, a program that consists of a “Circle,” which is simply the match of one low-income person (or couple) to at least two middle to upper income “allies.” Both have received training prior to being matched up, and everyone commits to working together for a minimum of 18 months on the low-income person’s individual path to get out of poverty. Allies are encouraged to use their networks, budgeting skills, and social capital to help this happen. Thanks to Kevin’s involvement in Circles East Liberty and an interest-free loan from the Hebrew Free Loan Association(HFLA),a nonsectarian nonprofit organization that offers interest-free loans, paired with a car from Community Auto, a program of North Hills Community Outreach which makes car ownership affordable to low-income working individuals and families, Kevin now spends a mere $30 per week in gas to get to and from work.

Kevin’s Allies from the Circles program helped him make this purchase happen. He told us, “Circles helped me by broadening my resources, which eventually led me to Community Auto. Through Circles I also learned about Hebrew Free Loan, and by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by both programs, I was able to get a car. I am more self sufficient now that I don’t need to rely on others for transportation, be it public or otherwise.”

Kevin’s commuting problems highlight a central theme for many low-income people trying to build a better life: A lack of reliable and efficient transportation is often a huge barrier. In fact, in a large, continuing study of upward mobility based at Harvard, commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder. The relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community, said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the researchers on the study.

Many of our Circle Leaders have this challenge. Through our relationship with The Hebrew Free Loan Association and Community Auto, we hope to eliminate transportation as a barrier for our families on their journeys to self sufficiency.

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