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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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According to a recent Buffalo News article the New York Power Authority is working on a deal with Yahoo!, the Internet giant, to bring them into WNY.  The speculated deal would include giving Yahoo! power discounts totaling $101.2 million over the next 15 years.  The plant Yahoo! is planning to build would create 125 jobs, which means that New York Power Authority would be spending $809,940 over the course of the contract for every job created.

A couple of quotes from the article about the potential deal:

  • Referring to the amount being spent on each new job, “‘It’s exceptionally high, even for high-tech,’ said Greg LeRoy, a national expert on economic development subsidy programs.”
  • “‘There are a few other deals we’ve seen over the years in that neighborhood, but it’s stratospheric. It doesn’t have much company,’ said LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.”
  • “‘On a number basis,’ said Power Authority President Richard Kessel, ‘this doesn’t look like the greatest deal in the world, but we can’t look at the numbers alone.'”

Power Authority President Richard Kessel is correct; we can’t just look at the numbers.  We also have to look at what kinds of jobs these are and where they will be located. As far as location, Yahoo! is looking at building its plant in rural areas like Cambria, Lockport or Pembroke.  What kinds of jobs will these be?  An interviewee in the article described these jobs as “high-tech”.  This means they are sure to require at least a bachelor’s degree or some training.

A quick look at the NFTA’s website shows no public transportation to Cambria or Pembroke from Buffalo and no morning bus runs to Lockport from Buffalo. There also does not appear to be any scholarship or training programs for interested but unqualified workers associated with the deal. There will basically be no way for a low-income individual living in Buffalo to get a job at this potential plant if they do not have all the required qualifications and even if they do have the right qualifications, there will be no way for them to get to the job if they do not own a car, which is impossible for most low-income people.

If the deal goes through, this publicly subsidized plant will not create living wage jobs for the 1/3 of Buffalo that lives in poverty.  This is not to say that communities like Cambria, Lockport, and Pembroke don’t need these jobs but could that $101.2 million do more good for more people in our community if it were given to a company that agreed to locate close to the areas that need the jobs most?  To companies that will train some of the city’s thousands of unemployed workers?

If the city, county, or state ever hopes to end poverty and homelessness in Buffalo, it must make poverty its most important focus.  In deals like the one being hashed out with Yahoo!, our administrators and elected officials must ask themselves if huge deals like these will create good jobs close to the communities that need the jobs most.  Looking at the Poverty Challenge Budget it becomes clear that one of the major things that keeps people in poverty is their low-income.  Many of the jobs that are available in the city are service sector jobs that pay very little, are often part-time, and offer few if any benefits.  If the majority of jobs in a community pay poverty-level wages, then the majority of people in that community will stay in poverty.

Another aspect of the Poverty Challenge Budget that is sure to keep people in poverty is transportation.  Using private transportation (or owning a car) will automatically blow your budget and put you into debt.  But most of the decent paying jobs are outside the city, in places where there is little or no viable public transportation.  The job that may help you get out of poverty is then out of reach becasue you can’t afford the transportation to get there and you have to settle for the minimum wage jobs in your neighborhood (which are harder than ever to find becasue of the current recession).

You could go down the list of items and expenses in the Poverty Challenge Budget starting with the low-income (due to the lack of jobs or the existence of only low paying jobs in your community), the high cost of rent/utilities, the cost of transportation, the cost of cell phones (very necessary for prospective employers to call you back) and see all the expenses that keep 1/3 of Buffalo in poverty.  If our public officials ignore the poverty level budget and don’t address the need for living wage jobs, affordable rent, affordable transportation, etc. then thousands of people in Buffalo will continue to be impoverished.

The Yahoo! deal is another decision being made by public officials that does not have ending poverty as a  primary concern or even as any concern at all.  Deals that will create the kinds of jobs that will allow people to get out of poverty must be the ones we consider first if we have any desire to end poverty in Buffalo.  The $101.2 million deal with Yahoo! is a deal that is being created without any concern for the thousands of impoverished people in our community. (more…)

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This article from MSNBC covers a major problem facing non-profits offering supportive services/shelter to homeless individuals: funds for their operations are being cut as demand for their services increases.  The current economic crisis has prompted state and federal officials to cut non-profit funding to close budget deficits.  At the same time it has pushed larger numbers of hard hit working class families and individuals to seek supportive services and shelter as jobs, wages, and benefits are being cut.

Providers to the poor try to stretch meager resources to meet growing need

John Brecher / msnbc.com
By Kari Huus
Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 2:14 p.m. ET, Fri., Jan. 30, 2009

SEATTLE – As snowstorms blew into this Northwest city and the economy iced over in December, the occupants of a shelter nestled among industrial buildings on the north side prayed for divine intervention.
“We were hoping for the Christmas miracle,” says Glen Dennis, 41, who was working his way through a residential drug-treatment program at the CityTeam Ministries shelter. Dennis and the other 11 guys in the long-term program —dubbed the “disciples” — also worked each day to prepare for some 50 to 60 overnight shelter guests, and dish up free hot meals to about 100 people. “We kept doing what we were doing, and hoped someone would come by and drop off a big check.”

But the check did not come — even after a coalition of other shelters, nonprofits and local churches tried to pull together a rescue package to keep the shelter open. On Dec. 27, CityTeam Ministries, based in San Jose, Calif., closed the Seattle facility — leaving scores of people to seek food, shelter and sobriety elsewhere. For Dennis, who had been free of crack cocaine for nearly 11 months, the upheaval led to another painful relapse out on the streets.

“It’s a real loss,” says Herb Pfifner, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission shelter in downtown Seattle. “We’re all scrambling to try to handle the growth of homelessness because of the economic situation …  and then the closing of another mission adds more pressure.”

The CityTeam closure is a piece in the expanding problem of homelessness across the nation: Shelters and related services for the homeless are facing funding shortfalls as the downturn takes its toll on state budgets and corporate donations. And while individual donors in many cases are keeping up gifts — or even digging a little deeper for charities that help with urgent needs like food and shelter — the service providers say they are faced with a rapidly growing demand from people losing jobs and homes in the economic crisis.

Less funding, more demand
“A downturn in (overall) funding in this case is accompanied by a surge in demand, so a homeless shelter, food pantry, or job-training program is going to feel it first,” says Chuck Bean, executive director of Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, in the District of Columbia. “Even if they have 100 percent of their budget compared to last year, they now see a 50 percent surge in demand. Then (they) get into the tough decisions: Do you thin the soup, or shorten the line?”

Even as census-takers fan out in cities across the country this week in an attempt to count homeless populations, advocates and experts point to a bevy of evidence that homelessness is rising and will continue to, most notably among families with children.

Shelters across the country report that more people are seeking emergency shelter and more are being turned away. In a report published in December, 330 school districts identified the same number or more homeless students in the first few months of the school year than they identified in the entire previous year. Meantime, demand is sharply up at soup kitchens, an indication of deepening hardship and potential homelessness.

“Everything we are seeing is indicating an increase,” says Laurel Weir, policy director at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “And homelessness tends to lag the economy. So we’re probably seeing the tip of the iceberg here.”

In the foreclosure crisis, the people being displaced from homes won’t likely be on the street immediately, explains Michael Stoops, director of National Coalition for the Homeless.

“The people who have lost homes or tenants in homes that were foreclosed … have downsized, and if that doesn’t work they will move in with family and friends,” says Stoops. “After a while, they will move into their RV in a state campground. The next step is a car. And the worst nightmare for a working, middle-class person or even a wealthy person who has never experienced homelessness is knocking on a shelter door.”

Services teeter on brink
As the case of Seattle’s CityTeam shelter illustrates, many nonprofits serving the poor are working on a shoestring, even in better times. Seattle-area donations to the shelter had to be supplemented from general funds, said Jeff Cherniss, chief financial officer of CityTeam, which operates shelters and food programs in five other U.S. cities.

“We were hoping (the Seattle shelter) could become self-sustaining,” says Cherniss. CityTeam Ministries, a Christian organization funded by donations from individuals, corporations and churches, kept the Seattle facility afloat with help from its general fund for most of a decade, but the 2008 crisis prompted them to retrench.

Every major source of funding is under pressure in the current environment: Charitable foundations — which rely on corporate profits for their seed money and investments to preserve and build those funds — have been forced to pull back grants after taking a massive hit as corporate earnings faltered and stocks plunged.  The National Council of Foundations recently estimated that philanthropic foundation endowments have lost $200 billion in value during the economic crisis.

A few of the largest foundations have, despite losses, promised to maintain or give at higher levels in the face of the crisis. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week said it would increase its giving to 7 percent of its assets from 5 percent. And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced three gifts totaling $34 million to help homeowners in Chicago avoid foreclosure and keep renters in homes.

Still, the casualties are mounting. Among them: Atlanta nonprofit Nicholas House, which closed a shelter for families in mid-January so it could safely keep other housing services open. Nearly all corporate donors gave to the organization at lower levels this year, says Dennis Bowman, executive director of the 26-year-old agency. The final straw came when a corporate donation ended, and was not renewed.

“It was directly because of the economy — the business has suffered in this economy, and so can’t provide the funding, which was well over $100,000 a year,” says Bowman.

The organization is scrambling to find other options for the 12 families — 45 people in all — who lived there, by squeezing them into other parts of its own programs or openings with other nonprofit programs.
In Washington, D.C., where Fannie and Freddie had been the largest corporate donors, dozens of organizations were up in the air as government auditors reviewed the corporations’ records, including their charity operations.

Linda Dunphy, executive director of Doorways for Women and Families, a shelter program that has been receiving funding from Freddie Mac since 1996, says the takeover of the mortgage company threw a promised $300,000 grant into limbo.

Meantime, Doorways watched other substantial corporate donations drain away — including some $50,000 that had been coming through an annual walkathon from financial companies Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.

Fortunately, when the review of Fannie and Freddie’s charitable operations ended in late December, the Freddie Mac grant came through for Doorways, averting the need to shut down a family shelter — for the next six months, at least. “But then we face a whole new fiscal year, and our concerns about what is going to happen at (Freddie Mac Foundation) and whether they can continue to keep giving at the level they have been giving,” says Dunphy.

The Alternative House for homeless mothers in northern Virginia was not as lucky. Freddie Mac had been giving $35,000 to $60,000 a year to this nonprofit. The Freddie Mac money was spent on providing developmental assistance for the babies, who are often behind because of their chaotic beginnings. Last week, Judith Dittman, who runs the program, got word that the funding was cut.

States awash in red ink
Up to now, another major source of funding for nonprofits providing homeless services came from state budgets. But entering 2009, at least 45 states faced budget deficits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which estimates combined state budget gaps for the remainder of this fiscal year and state fiscal years 2010 and 2011 at more than $350 billion. The trend bodes very badly for programs that benefit the poor and homeless. The leading example of state budget problems is California, which has eliminated funding for emergency housing assistance this year as it struggles to pare its $40 billion deficit.

In Ventura County just north of Los Angeles, the cut of about $60,000 delivered an immediate blow to three homeless operations. The largest, a winter shelter run by St. Vincent de Paul that provides beds for 100 people, was forced to cut 30 nights from its schedule.

“Because they operate on a shoestring, it’s a significant hit to them,” says Karen Schulkin, program coordinator for homeless services in the county. “The winter shelter at the National Guard Armory can only stay open for the number of days they have funding for.”

Local government funding often provides seed money for nonprofits, who leverage it to drum up foundation money and other donations. So, according to Bean of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, the local deficit — about $1.5 billion in the case of D.C. and surrounding areas — could present an even bigger problem than the uncertainty over the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Foundation.

“This will put a huge strain on the ability to invest in the safety net. …The challenge for a lot of nonprofits is that local government support will be down, foundations will be down,” says Bean. “The question will be what happens with individual donations.”

To be sure, out of the crisis come tales of inspired giving as communities scramble to raise new funding. The town of Danville in southern Virginia rallied to reopen a shelter that closed at the end of December after 15 years in operation.  A drive prompted a $20,000 anonymous gift, which was more than matched by dozens of other local contributions. By Jan. 22, the money and a new director were in place to reopen the 20-bed shelter—offering some reprieve, at least, in a town with an estimated 150 homeless.

“The people of Danville … opened up their hearts and pocketbooks with $23,100 in matching funds,” reports Pastor Donnie Anderson of the Riveroak Church of God, who spearheaded the fundraising. “We are so grateful! The shelter is open as House of Hope and is ready for any who may need a warm place to stay and hot meals to eat.”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28916152/

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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
BUFFALO’S BUSINESS

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.”

drobinson@buffnews.com

http://www.buffalonews.com/145/story/559521.html

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