Poverty in the News

  • New Yorkers ask, “So where’s my bailout?”
  • Federal bailouts and tax cuts rescue financial giants but not low-income people
  • Minneapolis’ former library chief working once again to end homelessness
  • U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) announces $36.7 million in grants for homeless programs
  • Florida agency provides housing for growing number of homeless women veterans
  • Mentally ill Tennessee man arrested for living in portable toilet
  • Michigan church donates portable toilets for use by downtown homeless population; public urination can lead to sex-offender status
  • Atlanta Muslim group feeds 1,000 homeless people
  • Kansas City police officers help homeless man find stability

Feeding America

The national network of food banks formerly known as America’s Second Harvest has changed its name to Feeding America:

This new name best conveys our mission—providing food to Americans living with hunger—and will be supported through expansive public outreach campaigns that will raise awareness of domestic hunger and our work.

Despite a 30-year legacy of fighting hunger, America’s Second Harvest has been confronted with low awareness among the general public, and a broader misunderstanding of domestic hunger …

Our new name, Feeding America, directly conveys that we are providing access to food for people who need it. It also communicates the positive power of food to be a catalyst in people’s lives. In essence, “feeding” serves as a double meaning—both providing food and enriching lives …

Learn more from Feeding America about hunger and food insecurity here.

Front-line librarians can use FA’s Food Bank Locator for referrals in your area.

Foreclosure Crisis Creating Larger Tent Cities

Found on CNN.com:

From Seattle to Athens, Georgia, homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they’ve experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report [PDF] by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH).

The group says the problem has worsened since the report’s release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.

On a tangential note, the NCH has an informative page detailing the voting rights of homeless people and ways to help homeless and precariously housed people register.

Check out You Don’t Need a Home to Vote!, which includes a description of barriers homeless people face when attempting to vote.

Tough(er) Times in Today's Recession

Salon.com is running a new series called “Pinched: Tales from an Economic Downturn.”

In the second installment, Heather Ryan describes the circumstances that prompted her, and her three children, to obtain meals from a soup kitchen:

I could segue into some political rant here, a slick dismissal of the Bush administration, perhaps, or a paragraph declaring my support for Barack Obama. But the moment I walked into the soup kitchen—the moment I acknowledged, publicly, that I could not provide food for myself or my children (which is why the soup kitchen is so much more difficult than the food bank)—is the moment that my ability to believe in the politics of this country was forever altered.

I know why poor people have historically low voter-turnout rates. If you vote, you acknowledge that you believe in the system. And to believe in the system when you’re at the very bottom, when you’ve watched the chrome and ink-black SUVs drive by while you’re packing your own beater with dried beans and lentils, to believe at that point is fucking painful. You either say the system works and you’ve earned your place, or you concede that there is something wrong and there might not be any way to fix it.

The entire summer of 2007, as I struggled to keep us fed, I hated thinking of politics, an unusual characteristic for me. It hurt to listen to any presidential candidate talk about the working poor, and not because they weren’t genuine, but because all their talk was just that—talk. It was like listening to my former self, the one who didn’t know how bad things could get.

Toronto's New Chief Librarian Tackles Poverty

InsideToronto.com profiled new Toronto Public Library Chief Librarian Jane Pyper, who is charged with implementing TPL’s new strategic plan.

As Pyper articulates, the plan will specifically address, among other things, the needs of low-income people:

“What people who come here are looking for is assistance in language—fluency in English,” she said. “And information in their particular profession. We’ve all heard about the taxi drivers with a PhD. Well they’re looking for the tools to get re-accreditation and textbooks that support retraining. Sometimes we do that in partnership with other settlement workers. We’re finding that to be a mutually beneficial partnership.” …

“Part of our success has been that we respond to what’s happening in Toronto. And you are as successful as you are relevant. So we must ask, what is the city facing? Well, diversity is a fact of the city’s life. Growing income disparity and child poverty is increasing, so one focus is on getting a foundation in life and for us that involves promoting early literacy. I think the secret is relevance and responsiveness.”

Our best wishes to Pyper and TPL staff in their endeavors!

States Launch New Anti-Poverty Programs

By way of Stateline.org:

As the economy falters and the ranks of the poor multiply, states for the first time in recent memory are mounting high-profile, comprehensive campaigns aimed at radically reducing poverty—many with an emphasis on children.

At least 15 states and the District of Columbia have created bi-partisan commissions to narrow the widening gap between the rich and the poor by eliminating barriers—such as lack of education, poor transportation and inadequate child care—that prevent many from finding better jobs and escaping chronic poverty. In addition, the states are working to help disadvantaged children in the hope of breaking the generational cycle of poverty.

Is your library actively helping low-income people?

Stay informed about poverty in your state or region by subscribing to the IRP’s “Poverty Dispatches” email service.

It’s free!

On the New Inequality

The June 30, 2008, issue of The Nation features a variety of articles covering economic insecurity, wealth distribution, and intractable plutocracy in the United States.

In their introductory essay, “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” John Cavanagh and Chuck Collins observe,

Too many Americans see the enormous concentration of our nation’s wealth as a symptom of a sick society, not a cause. Indeed, most of our politicians and pundits refuse to treat it as any sort of problem at all. They may sometimes bewail particularly unseemly CEO paychecks. They may twitter occasionally about the latest bilious billionaire extravagance. But that’s it.

The Senate couldn’t even manage to eliminate a tax loophole for gazillionaire hedge-fund managers last year. And even progressive wish lists tend to call only for a return to pre-George Bush tax rates, a step that would undo a mere one-sixth of the rise in income inequality we have experienced since the late 1970s, according to the Brookings Institution.

Cavanagh and Collins also note,

In April 2007 … a national coalition of organizations under the umbrella of Half in Ten (www.halfinten.org) put forward a broad set of proposals to cut poverty in half over the next decade. But this effort will likely fall short as long as concentrated wealth defines our nation’s political priorities. And until we seriously tax the holders of concentrated wealth, we will lack the funding resources that any bold poverty-fighting initiative demands.

Be sure to review the links and “new and recent” books list compiled in “Extreme Inequality: A Nation Guide.”

[Special thanks to Sandy Berman for the heads-up!]

Skokie Public Library Helps Low-Income People

Despite the best efforts of the Chicago Housing Authority to prevent the public from learning about a Section 8 housing lottery this spring, librarians at Skokie Public Library made sure that thousands of people were informed.

In early April we heard about large groups of individuals queueing up outside the Chicago Public Library main library and branches before they opened. They had heard a rumor that the lottery for Section 8 (affordable) housing was starting soon and that they could find information at their local library. When the librarians tried to find out the source of the information, they ran into a brick wall. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) was not giving out any information …

One enterprising librarian from the Evanston Public Library got hold of the information and sent it out to all in her network. It arrived at our library without any mention of confidentiality … we decided to make the information public on our community website, SkokieNet.org. It went live on April 11th . And we started to get a steady flow of calls, emails, and visits to the website.

Here is the full story. Way to go, SPL!

Community-Led Libraries Toolkit

Canada’s national Working Together Project published the absolutely stellar “Community-Led Libraries Toolkit” in March.

The resource treats a variety of subjects including social inclusion, fees and fines, collaborative planning, and the role of “community development librarians.”

When the Working Together Project asked librarians to talk about developing inclusive library practices and services, discussions stalled. Many librarians were hesitant to discuss social inclusion issues with us because they believed that the library already was inclusive. Some librarians cited long open hours, appropriate physical access, and creative programming as evidence of inclusiveness.

Others defined inclusiveness by describing their own comfort level serving anyone who walked through the library’s doors and by their personal commitment to developing original programming. The dilemma for the Project was to have discussions about inclusion that went past personal definitions and further than asset-focused examples.

To begin discussions about social inclusion and libraries, the Project started discussing social exclusion and communities. Social exclusion should be understood in broad terms. It can affect any stratum of our society, including people who are poor or live in poverty, people who are unemployed or underemployed, and people who are members of ethnic or cultural minorities.

Being excluded can mean being alienated from the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the community because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or class. Excluded communities can include new immigrants, refugees, the working poor, and groups that have been historically isolated such as African Nova Scotians and First Nations people. For some people, being excluded can stem from, or bring about, drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. The conditions that define social exclusion can often be multiple …

Understanding that there is social exclusion in our communities and recognizing that it does keep people from engaging with mainstream institutions such as public libraries is necessary before we can create truly inclusive libraries.

Kudos to Sandra Singh, Annette DeFaveri, and their many colleagues! This publication demands wide distribution and discussion.

Food Pantries Have Hard Time Keeping Up

From ChicagoTribune.com:

Spiraling gas and fuel prices along with rising food costs are behind the dwindling food donations, which are at a four-year low, officials said. Feeling the impact of these costs, the federal government and food industry—retailers, manufacturers and distributors—cannot afford to donate as much food to pantries as they once did …

The Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, in which the federal government buys surplus food from farmers and donates it to food pantries, has been a crucial source for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

But in the last five years, the program’s budget has remained flat, and with food prices skyrocketing, the amount of aid for the depository has dropped from 13 million pounds of food in 2004 to 6 million pounds this year …

State officials reported last week that a record number of households in Illinois are receiving stamps. Nearly 1.3 million people get daily staples such as bread, eggs and milk through the program.