Impacting Poverty: Impacting Everyone
Coming into 2014 there were many things to be excited about and grateful for, especially our community’s focus on key issues in the community…early childhood, child abuse and neglect, and poverty. Community Partnership is proud to be a part of all of these efforts. Our role in the community is to partner with others to make our community a place we all want to live in. This means focusing on those key issues with intention and purpose.
In February Community Partnership was one of 13 agencies who came together to bring Dr. Ruby Payne to Springfield to create a community-wide conversation around the growing issue of poverty in Springfield. At the same time, we announced the formation of a new Impacting Poverty Commission, chaired by Greg Burris and Gail Smart. This is important because our poverty rates have risen dramatically, going from 9.9% to 21.8% over a ten year period. Poverty rates for children are also unacceptable. 2010 Kids Count data for Greene County shows that 24% of children were living in poverty, including 31% of all children under 6. Currently more than 60% of students in Springfield Public Schools receive free or reduced lunch—up from 39% in 2003! So taking a proactive approach, the Commission will work hand-in-hand with the Impacting Poverty Collaborative to create an action plan. We will inventory existing services, educate Commission members about poverty, identify the root causes and symptoms of poverty in the community, research and identify best practices that address poverty in other communities, and set a vision, measurable goals, and strategies to reduce poverty in Springfield.
At our second meeting last week, the Commission participated in a poverty simulation organized by OACAC, the largest and oldest anti-poverty organization in the Ozarks. The simulation is designed to help community members understand the barriers that people face and the decisions they make when they are under-resourced and struggling. The group was divided up into different families and each had different life circumstances to deal with. My group of four was given the story of grandparents raising two school-aged grandchildren because the parents were dealing with addiction and serving time in prison. As the disabled grandpa, I was the caretaker of the children and responsible for making sure many of the bills got paid while grandma worked full-time to bring home a small paycheck each week. We only had one car so I relied on public transportation to get around. Our utilities had to be paid by the second week of the month and our rent by the third week. We didn’t realize the rent had to be paid early in the third week, so we were evicted for a short time. I guess that rule was included in the small print on our rental agreement. We had to buy weekly medication for one of our grandkids who was diagnosed with ADHD. Because of how our bills were due, we did not have enough money to buy medication the first week so he went without it. We also had a car payment and weekly food and clothing to buy. We didn’t have a bank account so we relied on the local check cashing company and they increased their percentage rate each time we used them, taking away precious money we needed for the essentials. We also had our TV stolen and had to pawn our microwave. We were turned away from food stamps and other social services because we actually had too much income.
Well, I am no stranger to struggling to pay bills. There have been many times in my life when I had to make choices about what to pay and when so I thought this would be easier for me. Boy was I wrong. I had underestimated the amount of strategy needed to make decisions (if I pay this, I can’t pay that), to figure out how to get where I needed to (because now I just get in my car and go), and when to pay which bill and still be able to feed the family, as well as just the overwhelming and frustrating feeling of no hope. Small things like forgetting to get a receipt for the utility payment had a huge impact. There was also a feeling of loneliness as we really didn’t interact much as a family….we really only focused on how to get everything paid so we could survive. No “how was your day” or “how was school today” conversations. No dreaming about where to take our vacation or what we would do on the weekend. Just pure focus on survival.
So why is this important and how did it really impact me and the rest of the Commission? It’s true that we all got to go back to our daily lives, which for most does not include these kinds of daily struggles. But it’s a start. And If our goal is to reduce or eliminate poverty, then we have to break down stereotypes and increase understanding and awareness. We have to make this an issue that EVERYONE cares about because it’s an issue that impacts EVERYONE.