Citing successes in Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties, local community organizers want to galvanize Cumberland County to put an end to poverty. It’s an objective likely impossible to achieve, but making serious efforts to try could significantly reduce poverty here.
Two hundred and fifteen people gathered in an auditorium at the Social Services Office building to hear what the process will involve. Pathways for Prosperity, known as P4P, will require creation of a Community Revitalization Task Force, said City Councilman Kirk deViere. He and Councilman Larry Wright have taken P4P leadership positions. As envisioned, the task force would consist of local civic and service organizations, community groups, the faith community and local government – to include elected officials, business leaders and the military.
To dramatize the need for change, deViere revealed the results of a community survey that was responded to by more than 1,500 people. A concerted effort was made to engage individuals who have experienced living in poverty. Twenty-one percent of the respondents reported annual household incomes of less than $24,000 a year. Another 25 percent said they had household incomes of between $25,000 and $49,000. A living wage for a family of four is considered $25 an hour, or $52,000 annually.
“There are people out there who are hurting,” said County Commission Chairman Glenn Adams. Commissioner Charles Evans was also present. City council members present in addition to deViere included mayor-elect Mitch Colvin, Jim Arp, Ted Mohn and Larry Wright. Assistant City Manager Jay Reinstein and Assistant County Manager Sally Shutt were on hand. Neither the sheriff nor the police chief were present. “The optics were not good not having law enforcement represented,” said one official.
Defining poverty requires a lot of statistical data: Locally, barriers to economic mobility include lack of job training, the cost of living, criminal backgrounds and racial discrimination.
“One-and-a-half million people of the state’s 10 million citizens have criminal records,” said Executive Director Rick Glazier, of the North Carolina Justice Center.
“Nearly one in four children in our community live in poverty,” said deViere; 18 percent of Cumberland County’s residents live below the poverty line, he said. Of that number, 24 percent are African-American, 21 percent are Hispanic and 12 percent are white. “Our sole mission is to eradicate poverty,” Glazier emphasized.
Researchers have found that three supportive factors help people move up the economic ladder: job training, affordable housing and higher wages. Therein lies the need for what deViere called “an infrastructure of opportunity.” Proponents of community involvement to tackle poverty’s causes and effects hope to create an atmosphere of openness, broad-based societal support, an understanding of how to leverage our strengths and assets and a will of the community to come to grips with poverty. “This is a two to three-year process,” said deViere.