SEATTLE— The New Face of Poverty is made up of average Americans who for the first time ever—are now facing serious survival crises. Who among us doesn’t have a family member or a friend who is suffering in this tough economy? Families in all of our communities have been forced to shave costs to the core—and when the times require deeper cuts—sometimes there is nothing left to eliminate. That is where many of our families are now—they need our help just to get by—to survive.
Calls for Help to St. Vincent de Paul Up Dramatically
Leaders of St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle|King County report that calls to their offices for help have increased over 58 percent in the past two years, which they say is a strong indicator that more and more middle-class families are needing help with social services. St. Vincent de Paul says calls to its Help Line Call Center via the Community Information 2-1-1 Line have gone dramatically in the past several years. The agency handles more 211 calls than any other social service agency in Seattle and King County.
Safety Net Being Shredded
St. Vincent de Paul believes many middle-class families in our area are now part of a new group we are calling The New Face of Poverty. They are family members, relatives, friends, people living next door, and those with whom we work. They are average Americans who for the first time ever, are now facing serious survival crises. They are now more visible in our food bank lines and we are hearing them in calls to our Help Line.
Governor Gregoire predicted: “Our safety net is going to shred. We’re going to have to turn to our faith community…our non-profits and volunteer organizations.”
St. Vincent de Paul makes thousands of in-home visits in Seattle and King County through a network of neighborhood-based volunteer chapters that donate thousands of hours per year to help neighbors. The organization believes the health of any community is determined by the response neighbors have to the most vulnerable. St. Vincent de Paul believes it has a unique and very personal perspective with what is happening in today’s economy. The organization began providing service in Seattle in 1920 and is one of the oldest locally operated social service agencies in King County. Globally, the 178-year old agency operates neighborhood volunteer groups serving people who need survival help in 142 countries. The agency serves everyone. Period. No exceptions.
Homes Visits Differentiate St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul differentiates itself from others by meeting clients in their homes and by building on 90 years of collaboration with other non-profits. In general, SVdP community-based Conferences with over 1,100 volunteers travel two-by-two to provide neighbor to neighbor assistance while also enriching their lives. They pay rent and utility bills, give gas/food vouchers, and discuss resource referrals.
St. Vincent de Paul builds upon successful collaborative relationships with other non-profits, through established and trusting relationships. The organization’s case management team, office staff, and volunteers coordinate various agency activities so as to complement each other and deliver a total support package whenever possible. As costs rise, St. Vincent de Paul hopes to not only maximize the benefits from a cooperative approach, but also to improve our ability to lessen the gap between requested assistance and financial support.
King County Fact Sheet on Poverty
According to the US Census Bureau, the overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people, according to the latest reports issued in 2010. For a family of four with two adults and two children, the federal “poverty threshold” is $21,834, according to the Census Bureau. That means that a family whose yearly income is less than that is, according to the government, “in poverty. About 70 percent of Washingtonians say that it takes at least $40,000 for a family of four to make ends meet in their community, almost double the federal poverty threshold of $21,000 (according to survey data from Washington Area Foundation 2009).
According to the United Way of King County Community Assessment on Poverty, “9.5% of all people and 11.6% of all children under 18 live in households with income below the federal poverty level.” Family Poverty in King County: The United Way Report says that “food insecurity is closely associated with poverty.” Incomes have increased very modestly for all but the highest earners. Stagnant incomes combined with the high cost of basic necessities have made it difficult for families to save, and many middle- and low-income families alike have taken on crippling amounts of debt just to get by.” For a family of four with two adults and two children, the federal “poverty threshold” is $21,834, according to the Census Bureau. That means that a family whose yearly income is less than that is, according to the government, “in poverty.”
WA State Poverty/Research Study from Northwest Area Foundation 2009
About 68 percent of Washingtonians say more people are struggling in their community now, compared to a year ago. And about 58 percent say they would benefit personally if the number of people struggling in their community was reduced. About 30 percent have had problems paying for basic necessities like mortgage or rent, heating or food. And more than 60 percent say people are struggling because of circumstances outside of their control. Just 25 percent say it’s due to poor choices. More than 30 percent of us say they or a family member living with them have lost a job in the past 12 months. More than 35 percent of them say that they have had their hours cut at work. Almost 50 percent of the public does not know where they could go in their community if they needed help with basic necessities like food or shelter.
Where Do We As a Community Go from Here?
St. Vincent de Paul has some ideas and some answers. The organization believes everyone needs to be honest and realistic with people who need help. The numbers of people who have trouble scraping together food for their families, money for a place to sleep, and funds to just get by are increasing. SVdP believes the numbers of local residents in Seattle and King County trying to survive are going to increase, not diminish.
St. Vincent de Paul believes there is a common thread that must serve as the imperative to bring us all together in this discussion. It is about being humane and demonstrating common decency: many people, including middle-class families, are now being exposed to the distress of poverty. The organization knows the people they help are humans, they are neighbors, friends, and family members, and they deserve respect and to be treated with dignity.
St. Vincent de Paul believes teaching people how to think is a strong solution. As a result, SVdP has strengthened its Case Management Program, which helps people who have the potential for success move through a structured program to reach self-sufficiency.
SVdP believes it can help bring about behavioral changes through the work of skilled professionals teaching new and targeted thinking interventions that enable individuals to move toward self-sufficiency. SVdP is intentionally creating a network of community partnerships, marshaling resources to advocate for justice, protection, and ultimately restore the dignity of our neighbors.