Michael Moody is the CEO and co-founder of Catalyst for Change, a Madison-based nonprofit that supports and empowers people experiencing homelessness by offering crisis management and community outreach services. Moody co-founded Catalyst for Change in 2019 after witnessing those in need being failed at the system level, due to what he says are financial constraints, a lack of resources and little imagination. The organization’s mission is to “eliminate human suffering one life at a time through a multilayered approach placing human dignity and development at the forefront of poverty, addiction and homelessness.” Moody’s work has been dedicated to finding rational, sustainable and creative solutions to homelessness and other issues in Dane County.
What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?
It would have to be the separation of economic classes. I think that we are a community that is growing, and we are a community that has wealth, status and education, but we are still a community where it’s for some and not for everyone. It plays out, to a certain degree, in the housing market where you can work a full time job and do everything right and still struggle with housing in our community. I think that economically Madison is reflective of some things that are going on in society on more of a macro level, as far as how expensive child care is and how challenging the education system is for everybody. As a social worker and someone that is driven by trying to create a fair and equitable society where we are lifting up everybody, I’ve seen the safety nets fall away, and I’ve seen income stay somewhat stagnant where prices are increasing. This is still an issue for us in our community. How do we make sure that education is fair for everyone? How do we make sure that children are taken care of? As the wealth in our community grows and as the community grows, how can we make sure that we are raising up everybody along the way?
What do you wish people in our community understood better?
I wish that people understood poverty better and what poverty is. It isn’t a blanket or an umbrella, and everybody who is poor doesn’t have the same issues. I wish people understood how poverty affects us as a community and as a society. I think that people see aspects of poverty, and they don’t necessarily understand the path that a person [took to get] there. When people see people on the street they think, ‘Well, just go get a job,’ and that sometimes could be applicable. But there’s all these factors that have occurred to get them there. Poverty is a bigger picture, and then homelessness can be one of the factors in a person’s life, but not always. I feel that Madison has prospered and grown, and I would just like us to continue focusing on raising everybody up and making sure that nobody falls through the cracks.”
What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community?
The first thing I think of is affordable child care. I want to break the cycle of homelessness and help stabilize families. We want families to be able to work, but I grew up in a time where you could support a family on one income. Now I feel that people are struggling to support their families on two incomes, and this leaves children under supported. I know child care is very expensive, so I will go with that answer. I think it just causes a lot of stress on the family and does not allow some of that support to children growing up. We do see this affecting our community.
What in our community gives you hope?
It is the people. It’s the community itself. I think that, all things considered, this is a very loving, supportive and giving community. I think the people that may voice frustrations, who are upset with responses, or who are upset with the end results of homelessness, if you actually take the time to talk to them and let them vent or express their frustration and fear, underneath it all they still care. Every person that seems outwardly frustrated or upset just wants to be heard. All of us do. I think there is tremendous support and caring in our community. Even in the midst of it, even when people get frustrated, they still care. That is inspiring us to do the work. I also want to thank the city and the county, because throughout COVID-19 they have put a lot of effort, energy and resources into helping people who are struggling. They have leaned into trying to work cooperatively. Too often people disagree and then villainize the other person. But the city has really made an effort to ensure that even though we don’t always agree, we figure out a way to work it out. That part of our community on the civic level, as well as other agencies that try to figure out workable solutions and compromise, gives me a lot of hope.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.