Poverty numbers grow

CAFCA | May 07, 2014 |

 Extraordinary. It's not a word many would associate with poverty, but regional advocates who have spent years counteracting the plight of those struggling to succeed say the description is apt.

“What I have seen over the last 40 years is the human condition, and some every extraordinary examples and behaviors. I've seen extraordinary determination, extraordinary persistence in making one's life better in spite of their adversities and conditions” Deb Monahan, executive director of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, said Friday morning during a forum discussion on the issue at Three Rivers Community College.

According to a January 2013 report by the Connecticut Association for Community Action, four of the 18 most impoverished municipalities in the state based on 2010 estimates were in either Windham or New London counties — with Windham and Norwich having the first and fifth highest percentage of poor residents respectively.

And according to the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, more than 21,000 New London County residents are living below the poverty line — and volume of food distributed through its feeding centers has jumped from 834,000 pounds in 2001 to nearly 2.2 million pounds in 2011.

“We really take a first-hand look at who is suffering from food insecurity and what the real face of poverty is,” said Jennifer Blanco, feeding site specialist for the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London.

Joyce Martin, a professor of human services in the college's social sciences department, said Friday's roundtable discussion was particularly relevant in the aftermath of racially charged comments by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

Bundy, who is fighting the Bureau of Land Management over more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, said on April 19 that he wondered if blacks were “better off as slaves” and said he observed while driving past a government housing project numerous children sitting on a porch with “nothing to do.”

“I think the only truthful statement that guy made is he was driving by in a neighborhood where the poor were. That's the reality. Most people just drive by and make up the narrative of what's in their heart and head,” Martin said. “If you might be someone who is interested in the plight of the poor and you hear that, you might think, ‘why should we care?”

Martin's students hosted Friday's event — part of an ongoing initiative exploring the social and economic landscape of southeastern Connecticut.

Lee-Ann Gomes, a 29-year employee of Norwich's human services department, said for those without adequate financial support, making ends meet in the region can be nearly impossible.

More than 14 percent of the city's population lives at 100 percent poverty, and almost three-quarters of students in public schools qualify for free or reduced lunch.


“That is an appalling stat,” Gomes said. “There are children in our community that do not eat at all or do not eat well when school is not in session. That is where they get their main meal,” she said.

Gomes told the story of one man who walked from Norwich to Hartford — an 11-hour journey — to meet with a state Department of Social Services employee.

“I have really seen the scope of homelessness and the scope of poverty drastically change over the last 29 years. The face of poverty is not what some people will try to tell you it is,” she said.