Archive for the ‘poor’ Category

During the Poverty Challenge we received a ton of interesting thoughts and comments in the Poverty Challenge Blog as well as from people who have previously taken the Challenge.  In an interview for this years Poverty Challenge, Rev. Drew Ludwig talks about an experience he had last year while taking the Challenge:

For those of you who can’t watch the video, Rev. Ludwig talks about how he went to see a friend in the hospital.  His friend really wanted a coke, something that you couldn’t get in the hospital, and Rev. Ludwig was presented with a moral dilemma.  Buying a coke for his friend would probably put him over budget and mean that he couldn’t eat dinner but at the same time this was such a small request that it was hard to turn down.  Living on poverty level budget meant that Rev. Ludwig had to agonize over even very small acts of charity, something that you may never have to think about if you have a higher income.

Another story comes from Sr. Sharon Goodremote.  While thinking about how she will have to change things in order to stick to a poverty level budget she was confronted with a dilemma much like the one Rev. Ludwig had to face.  A Sister she lived with needed a ride somewhere but this would mean getting more gas for her car, which would put her way over her poverty level budget.  She thought:

Normally, there would be not thought – of course I can do that.  But because tomorrow I am living in poverty, my answer would need to be, I can’t help you, because I need to get to work and don’t have the extra money to take you to work.  Or my answer could be, yes, I’ll take you to work – knowing that I wouldn’t be able to have lunch tomorrow in order to have enough for gas after helping her.”

Like Rev. Ludwig she had to make the choice to either help a friend out and blow the poverty level budget or not help a friend, even if it was just giving someone a ride.  For those living at the poverty level this is a daily dilemma as many people living in poverty, especially those living in the ghettos, have friends or family living in poverty who could use some help.  Financially the person must decline requests for charity or risk getting farther behind but many times impoverished people go ahead and help people out even if it sets them farther back.  Sr. Goodremote noted this tendency of low-income people to give even when they have very little:

It is interesting to me that I immediately thought that I would just say no, yet knowing people who live in poverty are often more generous than people who “have”, I decided not to have lunch tomorrow so I could be of help to someone else.  I am grateful for the example of the people I know who live in poverty who are willing to go that extra mile for others.

Sr. Goodremote is not alone in noticing this trend.  Reading change.org’s Poverty in America blog I saw this post by Leigh Graham who found an article in the Miami Herald about how according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the poor donate more to charities percentage wise than the extremely wealthy.  Read the full article here.

The article titled “They are more generous — even in hard times” describes how the poorest fifth of Americans gave more than twice as much to charity (4.3% of income) as the wealthiest fifth gave (2.1% of income).  Statistics like these conflict with the dominant stereotypes about poor people being morally bankrupt and “leaching off the system”.  These statistics about charitable giving show that income has nothing to do with a person’s moral character.  It shows the poor actually being statistically more charitable than the wealthy.  This is not to say that the wealthy have less concern for the plight of others but it does help refute claims that the poor are as irresponsible and selfish as many people in society feel that they are.

Stories like the ones from Rev. Ludwig, Sr. Goodremote, and the article from the Miami Herald help challenge the myths and stereotypes surround those in poverty and those who are homeless.  They ask us to review and rethink the ideas we have about impoverished people and open our minds to the idea that income does not dictate moral character.

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Greg Plotkin over at change.org’s Poverty in America Blog re-posted an article from the Herald Bulletin that touches on a lot of what the Poverty Challenge was all about.  The article, “Coping With Hard Times: Ambivalence about poverty” by Ashley Walker, examines some of the predominant ways that people view the poor and gives some possible explanations for why many people hold these views.  A very formative idea that guides many people’s thinking about poor people is the “rugged individualist” ideal, which is like a secular translation of the “Protestant work ethic”.  The basic tenet is that “if you work hard, you can make it”.  Walker cites numerous academics who find that this ideology ignores the numerous economic and social barriers to success that many people face and is rarely supported by social science.  A favorite quote in this article comes from Dr. Bruce MacMurray, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Anderson University:

“To suggest that the poor are poor because they are lazy or can’t save money or they are dumb is somewhat self-serving,” MacMurray said. “Those views allow those of us who don’t live in that environment to dismiss it as their problem rather than our problem — to say that they’re responsible for their own failure rather than to say that it stems from the problems of our society.”

In a town that is incredibly segregated, both racially and economically, it is rare for many higher income people to have very much meaningful interaction with lower income people.  The passionate declarations by many higher income people that the 1/3 of Buffalo that is impoverished is lazy, irresponsible, and morally bankrupt is understandable in view of MacMurray’s insight.  These accusations shift the causes of poverty off the economic and social inequalities (which oftentimes benefit the people making these accusations) and onto the poor themselves.

Through the Poverty Challenge we hope that higher income people can begin to get an understanding of at least some of the economic/financial challenges facing poor people.  Struggling through the Poverty Challenge, and seeing prominent political, faith, and community leaders struggle, will hopefully demonstrate how difficult and undesirable living in poverty is.  Obviously this cannot replace face-to-face, meaningful discussion with low-income people themselves but hopefully people will begin to see the accusations about the moral character of the poor as self-serving statements with no basis in social reality.

Once we can shift our focus away from blaming the poor for their poverty, then we can begin to focus on the economic and social inequalities like the dearth of accessible* well-paying jobs and high housing/utility costs, as Buffalo’s Partnership for the Public Good’s 2009 Community Agenda does.

*Accessible both transportation-wise and education-wise.

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That may seem like a ridiculous question.  Part of the reason I came to Buffalo was because I thought it was probably the most affordable place to live in the state*.  But the Center for Housing Policy‘s recently released report entitled Paycheck to Paycheck serves to remind us that for many working people, owning a home or even renting a 1BR apartment in Buffalo is unaffordable.

The report compares the wages of 60 occupations with the wages necessary to afford the cost of an average home ($100,000 including all associated costs) or the Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment in different states and metropolitan areas.  Housing  is usually considered affordable if it amounts to 30% of your budget.  For example, CHP calculates the income needed for a one-bedroom apartment by multiplying the Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom apartment by 3, which would roughly give you the income needed for that month to afford the apartment.  That monthly number is then multiplied by 12 to get the yearly income necessray.

The report found that while the wage necessary to afford a home decreased (much of that having to do with declining home prices) the wages for many occupations, construction-related occupations in particular, still are not high enough to afford a home and in severe cases a two-bedroom apartment.  Fair Market Rents continued to increase in most areas, which is very troubling given the big increases in unemployment and that renting is usually the more affordable option for low-income people.

The homeownerhsip and rental information for Buffalo, a town that most people consider a very cheap place to live, is also very troubling.  Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased from $704 in 2008 to $723 in 2009, a 2.7% increase.  Even more disturbing are the number of service sector wages that are not high enough to afford a one or two bedroom apartment, let alone a home.

Consider these graphs which show the income needed to afford a home, one bedroom, or two bedroom apartment in Buffalo along with the incomes of a selection of service sector occupations (which represents a large portion of the employment available in Buffalo):

Annual Income Needed to Afford a Home

homeownership 1

Other occupations that did not earh enough to afford a home included: hairdresser, home health aide, housekeeper, janitor, laundry worker, nursing aid, office clerk, packager, parking lot attendant, receptionist, retail salesperson, school bus driver, security guard, stock clerk, stock mover, telemarketer, and wait staff.


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“Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

-James Baldwin

Living in poverty not only takes a toll on a person’s emotional and physical health but also on the meager financial resources they may have.  This article from the Washington Post takes a look at some of the ways that the poor end up paying more for basic goods/services than many middle or upper income folks, just because of their lack of money and the (most likely) poor neighborhood they live in.  Being forced to pay significant chunks of your small paychecks to check-cashing companies or having to buy food at the convenience store on the corner may not seem like big issues to those of us who have comfortable incomes but for someone who is living on a shoe-string budget these costs pile up week after week and month after month.  These costs make it even more difficult for someone to get out of poverty.

With our Poverty Challenge we hope that people will be able to see some of these hidden costs of being poor.  Choosing to drive a car will automatically put you over budget,  so if you need to get somewhere you will have to take the bus or start going into debt.  This means you will probably have to walk to your bus stop (which can be a long walk in some neighborhoods) and hope that the bus is on time.  If you miss the bus, that means waiting for at least another 20 minutes for another one.  Being late to work can mean instant firing for workers in many low-wage jobs, which would be a huge set-back because at a poverty level budget, odds are you haven’t been able to save much money in the last couple months.

The difficulty of finding steady transportation is just one hidden cost of being poor that people with higher incomes (who can usually afford a decent car) may not necessarily see.  Reading this article and taking part in the Poverty Challenge is one way that those of us who do not live at the poverty level can begin to get some understanding of the unique difficulties facing those of us living in poverty.

Poor? Pay Up.
Having Little Money Often Means No Car, No Washing Machine, No Checking Account And No Break From Fees and High Prices

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 18, 2009

You have to be rich to be poor.

That’s what some people who have never lived below the poverty line don’t understand.

Put it another way: The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace. This is a fact of life that reality television and magazines don’t often explain.

So we’ll explain it here. Consider this a primer on the economics of poverty.

“The poor pay more for a gallon of milk; they pay more on a capital basis for inferior housing,” says Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “The poor and 100 million who are struggling for the middle class actually end up paying more for transportation, for housing, for health care, for mortgages. They get steered to subprime lending. . . . The poor pay more for things middle-class America takes for granted.”

Poverty 101: We’ll start with the basics.


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David Robinson over at Buffalo News wrote this article a couple weeks back about the thousands of jobs that the region has lost in the last couple  months and the thousands more that will be lost in the coming months.  Keep in mind that the loss of a job was one of the most common reasons cited for homelessness in Buffalo.
01/25/09 07:06 AM

So much for all the talk about the Buffalo Niagara region being a good place to ride out the recession.

While it took about nine months longer to hit here than it did across the country, thanks to our stable but subdued housing market, the steep decline we’ve weathered since September proves that when the national economy turns sour, there’s no place to hide.

“It took a long time for the recession to arrive in Western New York,” says John Slenker, the state Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo.

And arrive it has. The region in December endured its biggest monthly job loss since March 2002, when Western New York still was mired in the last recession. The December job losses were so severe — 7,600 positions vanished from December 2007 to December 2008 — that the region now has fewer jobs than it’s had in any December since 1995.

Even Slenker, whose job it is to put together the monthly employment data for the region, was surprised by the severity of the December decline. “This was a larger downturn than I was expecting,” he says.

But this is an economy that’s being wracked by fear, in addition to the fallout from the housing bubble, the vice-like credit crunch and the overall economic malaise it’s creating.

Consumers aren’t buying, fearful that their jobs might be in jeopardy or their pay might be cut, if it hasn’t been already. Companies aren’t investing as much and looking to save money wherever they can.

Executives are thinking a lot like Timothy

T. Tevens, the president and chief executive officer at Columbus McKinnon Corp. The Amherst material handling equipment maker’s sales have started to weaken, with revenues slipping by 5 percent, excluding an October acquisition. New-order bookings slowed at a “mid-to-high single-digit” pace, he said.

So Columbus McKinnon has been cutting back, trimming 200 jobs in the final three months of 2008. And Tevens is poised to pull the trigger on even deeper cuts this quarter if the slowdown continues. “That’s what I consider to be an initial cut,” he says.

Another 200 jobs could be slashed. Hiring and wages could be frozen. The company match on worker’s 401(k) plans could be in jeopardy. Health benefits could be reduced. Several plants are being looked at for consolidation.

It’s like that all over. “Most businesses are looking at their sales and they’re also looking at the general economy,” Slenker says. “They’re saying ‘Where can we tighten our belt? Even if we’re doing well, we’re going to cut back because we don’t know what the future holds.’ ”

That’s why Slenker expects the local job losses to worsen in January.

Canisius College professors George Palumbo and Mark Zaporowski expect the cost-cutting to spread to local governments, which so far have been reluctant to scale back even as the region’s population keeps dropping.

That could mean reduced services, lower pay for government workers and possibly fewer agencies operating in the region, the professors say in a recent report on the local economy. And they continue to stress that economic development efforts need to focus on initiatives that make the region more productive and competitive, such as by reducing energy, regulatory and transportation costs.

Still, Slenker says workers shouldn’t give up hope if they lose their jobs. More than 20 percent of the companies surveyed by the Labor Department last month said they hired new workers in December, often to replace employees who left their jobs.

“There are still going to be opportunities,” Slenker says. “You’ve just got to look harder.”



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Several weeks ago a number of homeless outreach workers as well as individuals from the community braved sub-zero nights to inform homeless people on the street of warming shelters that they had worked with the mayor to open up. Joy Tedeschi helped organize this effort and we had the chance to interview her about her experiences those nights as well as what she and the WNY Coalition for the Homeless are doing to get plans in place for future cold weather emergencies.

Interview with Joy Tedeschi on the late-night cold weather outreach efforts from Jan 14-16.

Who came with you to do the outreach?

A number of agencies and community volunteers came with us to be a part of the night outreach teams. Individuals from the Matt Urban Center, Lake Shore outreach workers, Crisis Services Outreach workers, V.A. Homeless Outreach team, Dale Zuchlewski (two nights) of City Hall, Hispanic United Supervisor of Supportive Housing, CEO of Catholic Charities, Disciples from the City Mission program, two professors and two students of the UB Masters of Social Work Program, Gerard Place Case Manager and a number of other individuals from the community.

What areas did you go to?

We covered all of the downtown area parks, viaducts, bus stations (both the train and bus stations), Old Train Terminal, MLK Park, Chippewa Area. We covered much of the city, both the East and West Sides, especially the first night as we had four teams. Thursday we had three teams and Friday we had one team. Each night we ended at the Harbor House.

What did you offer to the homeless individuals you encountered?

We offered transportation to the warming centers, or if they declined, blankets and warm clothing.

What was the response like from the homeless individuals you interacted with? Were they receptive? Did they identify any other needs that night?

The ones whom we were able to engage were receptive and accepted our help. There were a few who wished to be left alone. However, a huge part of the population that was missed are the squatters. Due to safety concerns, we did not enter abandoned buildings. One reason a plan should be established is so these squatters can be made aware of the warming centers. The other identified need was what would happen when the warming centers close.

What was your interaction with the city government like? Were they receptive to what you were doing?

We were happy to hear the warming centers would be opened. Unfortunately, it took members of the Coalition advocating for it to happen. Why did it take advocating and why did it take so long for the centers to be opened? We hear on the news how animals need to be brought inside to be sheltered from cold, yet human beings are left to fend for themselves. When we had power outages the centers were opened up for those with powerless homes, yet it took advocating to open up the warming centers for those who do not even have homes. Are those who are able to afford homes and pay utilities seen as more worthy to help? I don’t believe our elected officials think this way, but that is the perception of those who are most vulnerable. The reality is, those who are homeless are not much different than those who are “housed.” As HAWNY reported in 2008, the primary reasons for homelessness are Family problems, mental illness, substance abuse and job loss. These issues occur at every income level; the difference is the social, emotional and financial support networks an individual has.

What kind of plans (if any) did they have in place for very cold nights like those?

None that I am aware of.

Will they be doing anything different in the future?

Yes, we are working to establish an emergency plan with the city and county officials, along with the Red Cross and a number of other agencies.

What plans are you developing for the future?

Our plan will include designated warming centers to be opened at a bench marked temperature. Outreach workers will assist in transporting clients to the warming centers and engage them to ensure when the centers close that they have a plan for shelter (if they wish for assistance). Most importantly, no one will be left to “survive” the deadly temperatures on their own.

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Thanksgiving Dining Room Schedule 2008

Compiled by Food For All

Saturday, November 22nd

UPC Soup Kitchen                                                                           Saturday, November 22nd

67 Lake Avenue                                                                               12PM

Blasdell, NY 14219


Tuesday, November 25th

Loaves and Fishes Dining Room                                                                           Tuesday, November 25th

875 Elmwood Ave                                                                                                11:30AM-12:30PM

Buffalo, NY 14222

Thanksgiving Day

Response to Love Dining Room                                                       Thursday, November 27th

130 Kosciuszko Street                                                                        10 AM- 12 Noon

Buffalo, NY 14212

City Mission                                                                                         Thursday, November 27th

100 East Tupper                                                                                  11:30AM-12:30PM

Buffalo, NY 14203

Durham Memorial Church, Central City Café                               Thursday, November 27th

147 E. Eagle Street                                                                             11AM- 12Noon

Buffalo, NY 14204

Friends of Night People                                                                    Thursday, November 27th

394 Hudson Street                                                                           11:30-1PM

Buffalo, NY 14201

The Hellenic Orthodox Church of Annunciation                        Thursday, November 27th

Delaware and West Utica Street                                                  11 AM- 1PM

Buffalo, NY 14209

Friday, November 23rd

St Vincent DePaul’s Dining Room                                                   Friday, November 28th

1298 Main Street                                                                               11AM-12:30PM

Buffalo, NY 14209


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With the looming 40% increase in fuel costs reported by National Grid, this article from Business First of Louisville is a reminder of the significant increase in the basic cost of living for many Americans. There can be no doubt that energy bills per month are much higher in Buffalo.

Moreover, these figures are taken during the month of August and therefore reflect gas costs outside of winter.

What is desperately needed if low-income families are expected to keep up with the high cost of heat would be:

1) Raise the welfare grant to reflect true cost of living. Currently, TANF allots $54/month for heating costs. This does not reflect the true cost of heat.
2) Support the development of green building policies and weatherization programs. These policies would not only increase the energy efficiency of homes throughout New York State but would also support construction jobs, thereby strengthening our economy from the ground up. Low-income families living in more energy efficient homes would be able to save the money currently being thrown away on gas, or spend it on other basic needs such as transportation or health care.

More on this behind the jump.


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Some are blaming the current financial crisis on the poor.  This is not only wrong but offensive.

Newsweek has a good article outlining the attacks and placing the blame where it belongs.

Daniel Gross
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Oct 7, 2008 | Updated: 12:58 p.m. ET Oct 7, 2008

We’ve now entered a new stage of the financial crisis: the ritual assigning of blame. It began in earnest with Monday’s congressional roasting of Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld, and continued on Tuesday with Capitol Hill solons delving into the failure of AIG. On the Republican side of Congress, in the right-wing financial media (which is to say the financial media), and in certain parts of the op-ed-o-sphere, there’s a consensus emerging that the whole mess should be laid at the feet of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed mortgage giants, and the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed during the Carter administration. The CRA, which was amended in the 1990s and this decade, requires banks-which had a long, distinguished history of not making loans to minorities-to make more efforts to do so.

The thesis is laid out almost daily on The Wall Street Journal editorial page and in the National Review. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer provides an excellent example, writingthat “much of this crisis was brought upon us by the good intentions of good people.” He continues: “For decades, starting with Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, there has been bipartisan agreement to use government power to expand homeownership to people who had been shut out for economic reasons or, sometimes, because of racial and ethnic discrimination. What could be a more worthy cause? But it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-which in turn pressured banks and other lenders-to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That’s called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity.” The subtext: if only Congress didn’t force banks to lend money to poor minorities, the Dow would be well on its way to 36,000. Or, as Fox Business Channel’s Neil Cavuto put it: “I don’t remember a clarion call that said: Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.”

Let me get this straight. Investment banks and insurance companies run by centimillionaires blow up, and it’s the fault of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and poor minorities? (more…)

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