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N.M. woman found bridge out of poverty

Rose Scott has met poverty, lived it, survived it.

Of the more than 700 people attending the Utah Poverty Issues Conference Thursday, Scott may understand poverty as well as anyone.Growing up poor on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Shiprock, N.M., Scott dealt with her father's alcohol abuse and an unplanned pregnancy.

Scott found her bridge out of poverty through hard work and a college degree. She returned to the reservation, working with troubled teens and families for almost eight years before she applied and was accepted into the University of Utah's master's program in social work.

She said it was the example of her mother and grandmother and the desire to show her son a better life that helped her cross the bridge out of poverty.

It's a bridge all needy people need to find, advocates say.

"Concrete Solutions on the Road to End Poverty" was a daylong conference addressing issues like child care, health care, welfare reform, living wages and affordable housing.

Patrick Poulin, executive director of Utah Issues which sponsored the conference, said the "day of work" was a way for people from all over the state to look for solutions together.

"We all play different roles but the one common denominator is we all care and want to make a difference in this world," Poulin said.

Daniel Kemmis, former mayor of Missoula, Mont., and director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West, said advocates and political leaders need to change the way they think about poverty.

If cities and communities were strengthened, the illness of poverty would be easier to treat, Kemmis said.

"Income disparity and poverty make for sick communities," Kemmis said.

By realizing poverty is a costly burden for communities, political leaders may be more apt to look for solutions, Kemmis said.

Utah's current hot economy means fewer of the state's residents need financial aid. But it also translates to expensive living conditions and an uneasiness among the poor about what happens if the economy turns sour.

Kay Fox said she's embarrassed to show people who come to the Salt Lake Community Action Program the area's low-income housing list. The cheapest apartment on the list is $450 a month.

"We are talking about people who are in crisis every day," Fox said. "We're gambling with people's lives."

Less money is available to go around and restrictions in place on government assistance since President Clinton signed the welfare-reform bill eight months ago.

The welfare reform act introduced time limits and took away entitlement options placing more pressure to get people off assistance quickly. Utah set a 36-month lifetime limit for family assistance.

Beth Cottam, human services planner for five counties in southern Utah, said those in need can't rely on the old way of doing things. Those in the business of helping people need to get more creative in how they work with what they have.

Options like mentoring programs for welfare recipients and alternative transportation programs need to be expanded, she said.

Poulin said legislative and policy issues also need to be addressed.