Poverty: a pressing problem

Winter brings months of freezing temperatures and chilling winds. Even puffy down coats, fur-covered boots, wool mittens, thick scarves and Eskimo hats cannot fully defend against numb fingers and chapped faces. What a pleasure and relief it is, then, to finally arrive home at the end of a long day of braving the forces of winter. Winter does not dare to intrude upon this refuge, filled with warmth and welcome. A blanket and a cup of hot chocolate can make one instantly forget about the cold weather outdoors. However, this can only be a far-off dream for too many in Ames and across the United States. More and more families are either homeless or facing homelessness this winter, partly due to the worsening economy. Several organizations in Ames, including Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance and the Emergency Residence Project (ERP), do their best to assist families facing unfortunate circumstances. Both organizations are located downtown on Kellogg Avenue. They share the same goal–to keep struggling families and people in their homes by providing emergency rental and utility assistance. ERP also houses the homeless temporarily while they look for a new place to live and perhaps new jobs. Good Neighbor is in charge of the Healthy Food Voucher Program as well. Several families call ERP for shelter each day, but it is impossible to help all of them, for money and space are limited. “The problem is increasing,” said Vic Moss, the leader of ERP. “There are no easy solutions. We are stuck being a short-term solution to a long-term problem.” Michael Fritz, the head of Good Neighbor, has also witnessed the effect of the hard economic times. “More folks are losing their jobs or having their hours reduced,” he said. In addition, Fritz stated that health care issues are a major problem among struggling families. Since low-income workers have no health insurance and oftentimes do not have sick pay, coming down with an illness could result in a downward spiral into the depths of poverty. In addition, low-income housing has become hard to find in Ames. There used to be multiple trailer parks located in Ames, but they have gradually been removed. According to Moss, it is essentially impossible to rebuild housing that is that inexpensive. Once a trailer park is gone, it is gone forever. It may be difficult for most people to comprehend the extent of poverty in Ames. After all, one rarely sees homeless people roaming the streets. “There are some who are homeless, but there is a far larger number of working poor,” Fritz said. The “working poor” are people who are barely managing to get by, even though they have jobs. Moss estimates that a quarter of all jobs in Ames do not pay what is considered a living wage (which is calculated looking at the minimum needs of life). It is difficult enough for a single person to survive on minimum wage; it is impossible for a single mother with two small children to do the same, even if she works two jobs. Both Good Neighbor and ERP do presentations around the community regarding the poverty problem. Moss believes “gathering public awareness is the most valuable thing one can do.” “The first step is to be aware there is a problem and get involved,” Fritz said. The National Honor Society at Ames High School is doing exactly that. This year, its members are raising money and supplies to donate to ERP. They are also volunteering at ERP, including helping children there with schoolwork. The work of Good Neighbor and ERP is surely inspiring. It is comforting to know that even while the state of the economy is declining, there are still people willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.