Poverty is ugly. It doesn't matter how you describe it. It doesn't matter where you sit to observe it or live in it. Whether it is Jamaica, Belize, Africa, Europe, anytown USA, Detroit, or right here in Washtenaw County.
For the last two days, I've been participating in/chairing meetings as Directors Council President of the Michigan Community Action Agencies Association. We've spent a whole lot of our time trying to get our hands around how we are going to solve the problem of poverty in Michigan. Right now nearly 33% of our State's families and children live in poverty. Is this PURE MICHIGAN? The Governor is planning a huge Voices for Action Poverty Reduction Summit on November 13th at Cobo Hall. I am coordinating the effort with Livingston and Oakland County. (We will have more info on our website soon for you to sign up to go and learn about this crisis in our State.)
In Washtenaw County, almost 12% (~30,000 individuals) of our population live at or below of the poverty level. If we walk through certain neighborhoods in our county we don't see the blight or "slums" that we might see in other areas of the state, but we know that beyond the walls, people are suffering. We know that people are a house note away from foreclosure, a rent payment away from homelessness, a utility payment away from shutoffs. An ill senior citizen is in our county somewhere not knowing how they are going to pay for their next bottle of pills to stay healthy.
Eleanor Josaitis, Co-Founder, Focus-Hope, and a dear colleague of mine, told my group yesterday that she ran into a 4-star general who found out his mother had only popsicles in her refrigerator to eat. And he called her regularly. He had no idea she was hungry. Sometimes, many hide their poverty. They are too proud, and ashamed.
Let me put it another way. My vision of how many people are living in poverty in Washtenaw County, the second most affluent county in Michigan, is this: Think of the Big House. We could fill the Big House from the End Zone to the 33 Yard Zone with those who need assistance from our County's Human Services Departments and community based and faith based organizations.
Imagine that! That's a lot of people. And that is just the children and adults we count and know of.
So where does Katrina fit in on all this? I recently toured the aftermath of Katrina. I saw firsthand the miles and miles of lost New Orleans neighborhoods and too much poverty afforded to one city. It reminded too much of the aftermath of the riots of '67 in Detroit. Neighborhoods that weren't up to speed BEFORE the devastation looked beyond repair afterwards. So, indeed, poverty was accelerated after Katrina hit.
Then I was reminded again that 900 people lost their lives, that 6000 business owners lost their business, and that thousands of people waited out on the I-90 Bridge with one bottled water and 2 sandwiches in 101 degree scorching heat from Tuesday – Friday waiting for RESCUE. And it hurt through my tears.
So, where does Katrina fit in with Washtenaw? As a government worker and humble servant I ask myself where did the government go wrong with Katrina? Why did government go wrong with Katrina? How did government go wrong with Katrina?
As we work together in Washtenaw County every day to serve the most in need we should ask ourselves are we doing things correctly? Are we operating programs in the best interest of those needing services? Are we serving those in need with the utmost dignity and respect? As I walk around viewing our impoverished neighborhoods in Washtenaw County, where children play, I wonder why we cannot redevelop certain housing projects any quicker than a Katrina redevelopment project and move these individuals out of poverty.
I know it's not that easy. We all have a lot of work to do. I am convinced that people are not poor because they want to be.
Tell me what you think?