News and Tribune

February 13, 2013

ANDERSON: In whose backyard?

By BARBARA ANDERSON
Local columnist

— Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of guest columns from Barbara Anderson on poverty and homelessness in the area. Read previous columns at newsandtribune.com

 

I remember growing up in Blackiston Mill. Not Blackiston Mill Road, not Parkwood or Blackiston Heights, but right on the banks of Silver Creek, Walnut Grove. 

It wasn’t an easy place to grow up; in school we were the “creek brats.” It didn’t matter that my dad was a minister and a disabled veteran. None of that mattered — I was just a kid from Blackiston Mill and everybody knew about “those kids.”

That’s what growing up poor is like. You feel like you are always on the outside looking in, you try hard and it never seems good enough. I remember a high school counselor telling me that “girls like me don’t go to college.” I watched as my siblings struggled to succeed for who they were in a school system that sometimes wasn’t very friendly to the kids from the Mill. 

McCulloch School was a fairly safe haven, but then came high school. Clarksville for me and Jeffersonville for my siblings (Blackiston Mill was annexed). It was a test daily to go to school and to feel like you fit.

I did graduate from college, but it took some time because I had to work through school. Things were always really close, but not right there. I remember those feelings well. Maybe that is why I feel like I contribute to the people who walk through the doors of the Williams Emergency Shelter. So many people day after day, month after month, and year after year — poverty is never-ending.

The kids at the shelter are wonderfully a part of who we are. The younger they are the better it is; as they age or go higher in school, the poverty they live in and their surroundings become more a source of shame and embarrassment. 

If I could spare them anything, it would be that they have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. The mothers are always working at how to somehow find a little relief, but there is never any for them. The men constantly try to find a day job, a full-time job or any employment. It’s funny, as tragic as the stories are, as sad as they are, there is an amazing sense of family between the residents. A loyalty that develops. Maybe even a little hope.

As we struggle to find ways to deal with homelessness, we have to examine how open we will be to some of the solutions. We will need more services, we will need more resources, and if we are truly ready to deal head-on with the issue, we will put our differences aside and truly begin to work on the issue. 

Permanent Supportive Housing for those with disabilities will need to be built. Where? In your neighborhood or mine? There is a very strong need for families with parents in recovery, but where, and in whose community? Single men need affordable housing in a huge way. Do we congregate them or open up scattered sites for them, and who will help with the rent subsidies since all the rental subsidy waiting lists are closed? Will we be willing to invest in programs that help people move out of homelessness and into independent housing? Will we pay the right wages or subsidize those wages? Will we advocate for those who need to access food stamps even though they are employed? 

We must examine what we will do as a community to help. When we speak of the poor how do we speak — from the perspective of one who has taken the time to ask the questions and seek the answers or from the perspective of one who listens to generalizations and propaganda offered to keep us angry at the poor? 

For instance, when we talk about all “those welfare people” do we realize that only 474 families receive TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) in Clark County and 479 in Floyd? So, where are all those “welfare moms?” That equates to 1 percent of the families in Clark and 1.3 percent in Floyd County. The food stamp program served 11,927 people in Clark County last year and 8,941 people in Floyd County, respectively. That means a whole lot of fixed-income households, working poor people and unemployed people needed help. In addition, 8,233 children received free and reduced lunch through the school systems in Clark County and 5,100 children received the same assistance in Floyd County. We obviously have hunger issues in our community.

Any dialogue that does not include resources to help with the situation is impractical and naïve. Not having resources has resulted in huge numbers of people on food stamps. The lack of a living wage, underemployment (less than full-time) and medical coverage for those who are not receiving employment-backed benefits are weighing heavily on average people in our community. 

One family came for help this year and both parents were employed locally at $11 each per hour. The problem? They could not afford the cost of the insurance offered by their employer. The additional problem? Their 5-year-old girl was a brittle diabetic, as was dad, who tipped the scales at 134 pounds. 

Both needed medication monthly and had been denied Medicaid because of their wages. The cost of the medicine was $264 per month per prescription for dad and daughter plus the costs of needles, pills and secondary insulin. 

The total tab for medication alone for the family was almost $825 dollars and the insurance cost was $920 per month. This family would be better off on subsidies because if they continue to work, their family’s health is at imminent risk. 

What a position to be living in daily.

The dialogue is never easy when it comes to issues like this. It is difficult, painful and requires sacrifice. It requires compassion and it requires brotherhood/sisterhood. We are our brother’s keepers, God said that. With that being said, will we let our brother move next door?

— Barbara Anderson is executive director of Haven House Services Inc.