The framework United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties uses to create strategies to address the challenges residents face are the ten root causes of poverty.
As defined by the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida Prosperity Project, the root causes of poverty are the problems that need to be solved in order to lift people into prosperity.
Director of Health and Economic Mobility Nishika Stafford explains what the causes are, which ones affect local residents most significantly, how UWLS addresses them and why it’s important for YOU to know about it.


What are the root causes of poverty and how are they determined?

The ten root causes of poverty are:

  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of quality in education & workforce development
  • Unaffordable and/or unattainable housing
  • Insufficient transportation options
  • Disproportionate health access and outcomes
  • Lack of consistent access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods
  • Inaccessible & unaffordable childcare
  • Unsafe environments
  • Imbalanced outcomes in the criminal justice system
  • Lack of recognition and access within a community

The latest government reports show there are 737,567 children living in poverty in Florida’s 983 zip codes. The Florida Prosperity Project’s research shows half of them live in just 150, or 15%, of Florida’s zip codes. With a belief that no child’s zip code should dictate their future, and the business community can lead the efforts to change those outcomes, the Florida Chamber Foundation created the Florida Prosperity Project. UWLS works to help lead Florida and each of its zip codes on the path to prosperity.

Which of the causes impact the residents of Lake and Sumter most significantly?

Lack of quality in education and workforce development, as well as unaffordable and unattainable housing.

How does UWLS address these causes?

Our Family Stability Services program effectively tackles the critical issue of homeless prevention by directly addressing the financial challenges endured by households within Lake County. By offering targeted assistance, we provide families with the essential resources and guidance needed to regain stability and secure a brighter future, such as financial payments to cover rent, mortgage or utilities. Along with case management that offers wraparound services and focuses on the 10 root causes of poverty. UWLS also offers the Financial Literacy program that offers monthly classes to the community that focus on budgeting low- to medium-income households.

What is the desired impact of addressing the root causes of poverty?

First, the FSS program steps in as a guardian of stability, interceding for families who have limited or a void in financial resources and facing eviction or foreclosure due to non-payment. The program will provide a lifeline that empowers them to continue to reside in their current homes. By offering financial assistance for rent and utilities, the program effectively fortifies the foundation beneath these families, preventing them from falling into the abyss of homelessness. Second, the program collaborates with the internal sister program Financial Literacy to provide ongoing budgeting classes for their income. It also provides strategies to raise income and decrease expenses. The programs were created with the recognition that the issues of economic instability and homelessness are multifaceted and require a comprehensive, collaborative approach from multiple areas. For the above reasons and more, the impact of our assistance program can be the difference between individuals retaining or losing employment, maintaining or losing their homes, or even having essential utilities shut off, resulting in a loss of food and the habitability of their dwellings. By offering support, we create a buffer against the domino effect of financial instability, offering these individuals the opportunity to weather unforeseen challenges without spiraling into a deeper crisis, taking months or possibly evens years to recover from. Thus, your support will extend a lifeline to those who are often teetering on the edge, struggling to maintain their footing in the face of overwhelming odds. By serving those with low and moderate income in the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population in Lake County, we contribute to the overall stability of our community.

Why is this important for the community to understand and for these causes to be addressed?

Being fully aware of the social issues can help to induce a rational approach in young minds. As a result of that, it will help them to avoid stereotypes and not generalize every situation. One of the most persisting problems is generalization. It leads to discrimination among people. A social problem is an issue within society that makes it difficult for people to achieve their full potential. Poverty, unemployment, unequal opportunity, racism and malnutrition are examples of social problems. So are substandard housing, employment discrimination, and child abuse and neglect.

Anything else people should know?

To be a part of social change in the community, it takes the whole community’s support. Volunteering, advocating and participating in community meetings all can bring value and support to your neighbors.