Nonprofit leaders hopeful about Poverty Thought Force plan

Nonprofit leaders hopeful about Poverty Thought Force plan
March 09
06:30 2017



Leaders of organizations that help those in poverty are hoping to see action, accountability and community engagement as the Poverty Thought Force’s plan is implemented.

The Thought Force held a series of World Cafe meetings to get ideas from the public on reducing the city’s poverty rate, which was 23 percent in 2015. The 22-member committee narrowed it down to more than 60 recommendations in the key areas of education, housing, health, food insecurity and unemployment. It also recommends a new “poverty tzar” that would help to coordinate efforts and implement the plan.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest N.C. Executive Director Clyde Fitzgerald said he hoped the position will be called “coordinator” instead of “tzar” because of how politicized that term has become. He said he liked the idea of better coordination of anti-hunger efforts. He felt the position will provide someone to hold account-able for the plan’s implementation.

“I hope that as we move forward with this work, that positive words we hear from some will be converted into concrete action, which is what is required to help people move forward in their lives,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said Second Harvest and its clients had input into the plan. He was glad to see universal school breakfast as the top recommendation on hunger, which he said will help with childhood hunger. He’s also glad to see recommendations to help food deserts and expand school backpack programs, which give low-income students food to take home.

Twana Wellman-Roebuck, executive director of Experiment in Self Reliance, said ESR also had input into the plan. She said she thought the recommendations on ways to encourage employers to hire people with criminal records will help eliminate a barrier that keeps many in poverty.

She said she hopes the plan will result in a community-wide effort from a broad range of groups. ESR, which helps people find housing and stay in it, is already involved with citywide poverty efforts like the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Wellman-Roebuck said she hopes the Thought Force’s plan will also have a big impact.

“I think it’s a good starting point,” she said. “When you can’t improve, is when you don’t start.”

Wellman-Roebuck said she hoped the “ poverty tzar” will provide leadership to make sure the plan is implemented. She also hoped that there are evaluations made to assess the progress of the plan.

Shalom Project Executive Director Lynn Brown said Shalom advocated for its Circles programs at the World Cafe meetings. Circles teams people living in poverty with allies who have resources, which was among the recommendations in the Thought Force’s report.

Shalom offers a variety of services to help those in need like a food pantry and medical clinic. Brown said poverty has remained a persistent problem in the city and he was glad to see a push to get the community involved in the solution. He hoped the plan’s implementation will emphasize action and community engagement.

“To me, the most key thing is to really engage in the communities where they are going to implement some of the ideas, really make sure the community buys in,” said Brown.

The city has already passed a commitment to the plan. It will also go before the county commissioners and groups like the United Way. Currently, the Thought Force and city staff are looking at ways to implement the plan, including the creation of a “poverty tzar” position.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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