01/21/18 — Examining local poverty

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Examining local poverty

By Melinda Harrell
Published in News on January 21, 2018 3:05 AM

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Particia Beier, executive director of WAGES, leads off a panel discussion about poverty at First African Baptist Church on Wednesday. Also taking part in the discussion were Michael Dunsmore, superintendent of Wayne County Public Schools, and Anthony Goodson, CEO of Goldsboro Housing Authority, not pictured.

In light of the sobering numbers contained in the Goldsboro poverty study released last week by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund, local leaders and organizers hope the community will be galvanized and inspired to collaborate in an effort that will lead to a lasting and necessary change.

The study, "Goldsboro: Isolation and Marginalization in Eastern North Carolina," quantified the level of poverty within the city and county with stunning results.

According to the report, 25 percent of people living in the city are doing so in poverty -- around 21 percent in the county -- and 40 percent of children are poor. One in four children go hungry, and one in five adults do. The numerical findings of the report are presented with narratives from people living in poverty and community members working to ease the pain of it.

Though the report illustrates poverty that some people were unaware of, for others who work in the communities every day, it was no surprise. The study itself was actually born from informal conversations of non-profit groups and community leaders running parallel with N.C. Justice Center's piqued interest in the area.

Habitat for Humanity of Goldsboro-Wayne Executive Director Matthew Whittle said conversations over the past year with other community leaders highlighted the need to alleviate poverty.

"More than a year ago, there was a group of us, non-profits and other community agencies, and we kept talking about what we can do to work together to make Goldsboro and Wayne County better," Whittle said before Dr. Gene Nichol, one of the authors of the study, presented the findings at First African Baptist Church Wednesday.

"How can we improve our services to address these issues of poverty, address these issues of affordable housing, address the issues of education, etc.? As these informal discussions were going on, we were approached by Gene Nichol with UNC Poverty Research about a new study and the N.C. Justice Center took an interest in Goldsboro."

It was a perfect amalgamation of interests. What attracted the N.C. Justice Center and the Poverty Research Fund was the sudden and sharp decline of the middle class reported in a Pew Study in 2016, and the community resources and grassroots efforts to help the impoverished that the city and county already had in place.

And with the help of community leaders such as Whittle, Shirley Edwards, community organizer and activist; Danielle Baptiste, Hilda Hicks and Thomas Smith of Dillard Academy; Pat Yates, former director of Literacy Connections; Doricia Benton, director of the Community Soup Kitchen; and the Rev. Adeen George of the Community Crisis Center, among others, researchers Nichol and co-writer Heather Hunt, were able to compile a report showing the experiences the community organizers were concerned about and creating a document -- they hoped -- that would begin a loud conversation that had thus far been a whisper.

By all accounts, the objective to galvanize the community has made progress to success. The formal presentation of "Goldsboro: Isolation and Marginalization in Eastern North Carolina" saw a packed venue, and Whittle wants to keep that momentum going into the first poverty task force meeting on Feb. 1 at WAGES.

"We have a lot of names and contacts full of people who indicated that they wanted to be involved in the process," Whittle said after the presentation and said the report was a "jumping off point" for community action.

"The ultimate goal is to make it different, to make an actual change," he said. Whittle also emphasized the value of community input.

 "Community input is going to make a difference, and what would make the most difference is to have those solutions come from bottom up instead of dictated from the top down," he said.

 He said there are "any number of people" becoming involved in the task force -- including leadership from WAGES, the Community Soup Kitchen, the Salvation Army, Literacy Connections, Habitat for Humanity and leadership in Mount Olive and Fremont as well as the city and county leaders -- and he hopes the list keeps growing.

"The key components are getting people who are living that experience, who are living and dealing with poverty involved and have their voices in the task force," Whittle said.

The N.C. Justice Center will remain involved in the community effort as a member of the task force, giving support to the leadership of the effort.

N.C. Justice Center policy analyst William Munn, who is a Goldsboro High School graduate, said he will be involved in the local task force organization and that the center is committed to "eradicating poverty in North Carolina."

"This is an organic effort," Munn said.

"We are really going to provide support -- technical and analysis. We are really working hand in glove with the leadership here in Wayne County. Our mission is to make sure that every North Carolinian has a pathway to prosperity, and our goal is eliminate poverty."

For Whittle, there is a moral imperative to help the people living in poverty by cultivating solutions to the problem as a whole -- whether addressing affordable housing, health, jobs, economic development, hunger and education -- but, he said, everyone living and working in the community has a stake in dissolving the burden of poverty.

"I think one of the things are Goldsboro has done a fantastic job of making some really positive changes, and I want to emphasize that I think the efforts that have been made downtown and other areas of the city has been very positive," he said, citing the city's efforts to pave the roads and revitalize the downtown area.

"I think the next step in making a difference is addressing some of the issues of poverty. A lot has been done to put Goldsboro and Wayne County on a good course. My fear is, if some of these issues, if the community doesn't come together to address these, then no matter what continues to be done in terms of downtown revitalization and bringing in new industry, if this anchor of poverty isn't lifted in some fashion then that will continue to be a drag on the wonderful things happening in Wayne County."

The first poverty task force meeting will be at the WAGES building, 601 Royall Ave., beginning at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 1 Anyone interested in joining the task force is invited to attend.