Hunger in the Land of Plenty

November 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

All across our nation the smell of food wafts from restraunts along commercial streets. Absolutely every wonderful scent is represented.  Food is the celebrity on magazine covers and the focus of it’s own national television network. Food seems plentiful in this country yet startling figures are coming out  revealing that food hardship afflicts 14.9% of households in America and a shocking 23% of households with children. County by county these statistics may vary but let’s read that again…nationally 23% of households with children have difficulty getting the food they need; that’s one in four. 

Hunger in a land of plenty can be explained succinctly.  Phenomenal rises in grocery prices, declining median incomes, swelling poverty numbers, stubborn unemployment

Community garden

 Where can we begin to help? There are strong networks of food banks in America. The pressure is high on those existing organizations now.  Can you redirect money to give monthly to your local food bank  during these hard times?  Can you volunteer? Maybe you have an idea for a new way to help or can get involved in recent efforts that augment the food banks.  Some, such as the Urban garden movement, focus on growing food to feed neighbors. Others emphasize recovery of food. The USDA estimates that a 5% saving in food discards could feed 4 million more people daily and reduce the 31 billion dollars a year businesses and communities pay to get rid of unharvested/unwanted/unsold foods. Organize restraunts in your community to donate food, fundraise for hunger, or participate in a  Gleening Network

 This is a land of plenty; plenty of food and plenty of talented caring people. With focus and effort we can reach a time when noone in America needs to go hungry. Today we can begin to make that difference.

Coming Out In A Still Hostile World

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

October 11, 2011 is National Coming Out Day. That’s a day for supporting friends and family who are Gay, Lesbian or Transgender. It’s a day to press for equality. It’s a day when LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) members are encouraged to “come out,” be open, and share the full spectrum of who they are.  But for many LGBT low income and homeless people full disclosure of sexuality leads to hate and discrimination in places where they go to seek shelter or support.

Recent reports from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), New York based Queers For Economic Justice (Q4EJ) and Anti Violence Project pour out incidences and harsh experiences that homeless and low income LGBT people face.  On this day promoting visibility of all that we are these studies highlight the risk and complexity that minority communities face when they are visible and do stand up for their experience.

In Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness,  the NGLTF finds that family conflict over gender identification is a primary factor driving youth into homelessness.  Estimates from counts across the nation suggest that LGBT youth comprise upwards of 20 and as high as 40% of  the more than 1 million homeless youth in our country. Youth continue to find hardship on the streets and are 7 times more likely to become crime victims. Safe shelter is hard to find. In New York, for instance, 60% of shelters are run by a facility that repeatedly threatens and abuses LGBT youth because of their sexual orientation.  Despite large numbers in the homeless community very little federal funding, targeted programs, or appropriate housing is provided for LGBT youth.

Queers for Economic Justice’s report: A Fabulous Attitude: LGBTGNC People Surviving and Thriving on Shelter, Love, and Knowledge reports that LGBT homeless youth often stay homeless or low income into young adulthood. In this report, using studies and interviews with 200 respondents, Q4EJ writes, “Survey takers contend with harassment from landlords, evictions, and egregious conditions in shelters. LGBTGNC (Lesbian, Gay,  Bi, Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming) people who are homeless negotiate unprofessional, discriminatory, and dangerous treatment in many vital social service agencies, including being denied services (40%), falsely arrested(24%) and physically (22%) and sexually assaulted (10%).”  

Sadly a 2010 report by The Anti Violence project concludes that LGBTQH (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, HIV affected) communities with long histories of discrimination and violence faced increased rates of violence in 2010 noting that murders in the community are at the second highest level in a decade. Their findings of abuse and indifference within the system were consistent with NGLTF and Q4EJ. 61% of 362 victims interviewed said police attitudes toward them were indifferent, abusive or deterrent. 

Please join me today in pledging to support more funding and research directed toward LGBT low-income and homeless communities. Consider “liking” the Anti Violence Project on Facebook or donating to the  Human Rights Campaign. If you know someone who is LGBT let them know today that you appreciate and support who they are.

Worrisome signs of cognitive risks in poverty

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m skeptical of studies that find children living in potentially stigmatized environments are cognitively at risk. But I concede that a growing number of good studies observe that our children living in persistent poverty seem to experience cognitive impacts.  The worst news:  This affects 15 million children and, consequently, America’s future. The better news: some studies suggest that  learning impacts that may exist can be countered if we can develop effective school interventions. Others believe that parenting support may make a difference.

The three studies I’m referencing are:

1) In 2009 Wired Science portrayed results of a study of 195 white kids this way: “A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.” The researchers tested memory at 9, 13 and 17 years of age. They conjectured that early life stress, such as that experienced by many children in persistent poverty, has an impact on brain structure.

2) In 2011 more studies were announced.  In January, researchers tracking 750 pairs of fraternal and identical twins  determined that by age 2 cognitive differences were emerging between children of wealthy families and poor families.

3) In April, the National Library of Medicine, Medicine net, and many Science publications  reported on results of a British study following approx 19,000 children at 3 months, 3 years and 5 years of age.  Science Daily writes, “They conclude: ‘Persistent poverty is a crucial risk factor undermining children’s cognitive development — more so than family instability.'”

Persistent poverty is the risk factor not family instability. In other words poverty and not people living those lifestyles are what puts our nation’s children at risk. We’re no longer simply fighting to give equal education to all kids we’re talking about saving the intellectual capabilities and potential of all children. Poverty hurts. Now we’re learning new ways that it harms. Won’t you join me in giving time and energy to alleviate persistent poverty.  Help the children. Give them a chance for future success by getting involved in a local poverty relief program.

Target: 4.5% charitable contributions

May 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Media often talks about what poor and low income communities cost or take from society and how much help they need.  Considering that, I find the need to talk about the long history of giving in these communities. What we give isn’t just in the form of money, as Jennifer Sherman finds in her study of an economically devastated mountain community,  but the money we give, proportionate to our incomes, tends to be close to or even greater than that of upper classes. In fact, surprisingly, the percentage given by working families with low income, 4.5%, when last tracked, is in line with that of corporate giving!

Charitable contributions are usually thought of in big numbers. Contributions are also easier to track when they’re large because they’re  itemized thus tax deductable. That may be why we forget or don’t hear anything about charitable acts in small amounts. But small amounts add up. Ask President Obama who claims his average contribution was $86.00

Can you imagine the sacrifice involved in giving 4.5% of your hard earned $20,000 away? The dollar amount is much less than 4.5% of $100,000, for instance, but how different is the sacrifice? How different would the world be if we all committed 4.5% of our income to the betterment of our neighbors?  Will you take that pledge?

Poverty and Family Values

May 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you’ve ever faced poverty or experienced low income you know that these conditions can create dramatic and painful questions like, “Should I buy food or medicine?” People unfamiliar with the experience of poverty may ask themselves why poor people don’t put more emphasis on earning money to avoid those choices.  Some even suggest that poverty is a problem of values and poor choices.

For insight, turn to sociologist Jennnifer Sherman’s account of interviews with members of an economically shattered mountain community published in her  paper, “Family Values, Rural Poverty, and the Moral Boundaries of ‘Tradition'” and in her book, Those Who Work And Those Who Don’t.  Her work was inspired by a curiosity about why family values figured so strongly in recent national elections but her findings have greater application. They tell us that the constant stress of inadequate money and reactive consequences  (ie: drug use, depression, violence) shift the way members of that community view their priorities.

Middle class whites, Sherman writes, make “sure their children have all the advantages necessary to get ahead” but parents in this poor community, “focus their energies on making sure that their children, and any others in need, are provided the very basics. Oftentimes this does not even mean sufficient food, but simply an abuse-free environment in which to sleep at night and parental figures who will support them in their endeavors.”  In the context of severe economic stress family and tradition are  “…one area left in which its citizens can define themselves and their community as a success story.” 

Sherman’s work  focuses on a unique, mostly white,  rural community but is there a similar effect in diverse urban communities stressed with poverty? How does stress in an urban community affect the choices people make? Do the polarizing either/or “choices” of poverty sometimes influence community members to elevate altruistic values over the pursuit of money? Are choices poor choices when they’re made to give children the best life possible?

Solving poverty is hard but, as a country, we can make progress by simply learning more about economic classes we’re unfamiliar with and suspending our judgements. Encourage others to stop problematizing people in poverty and focus, instead, on problematizing our tolerance of communities and families facing dire financial decisions.

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