Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Hear the Voices of Help and Hope

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Hear stories of hope — directly from just a few of the people whom Catholic Charities has helped over the past year. This short film premiered at our Annual Gala Benefit on March 21, 2012 in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf=Astoria.

This year’s gala was a record-breaker in terms of both fundraising and attendance. Nearly 1,000 guests helped to raise more than $2.5 million to provide help and create hope in the lives of our neighbors in need.

Our (Invisibly) Homeless Neighbors

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

By Marianna Reilly

Photo from the New York Times

February 7, 2012 — Think you know who the homeless are? You might be surprised by the New York Times special feature on the “invisible homeless.” They don’t live on the streets, or in doorways – they are families enduring a day-to-day reality that often includes hours-long subway commutes, day care, food pantries and shelters.

In our community, there are a staggering 40,000 homeless children and adults currently living in shelters. This is an all-time high for New York, and—picture this—enough to fill the stands in Citi Field.

You probably see these individuals every day without even knowing they are homeless. They turn to shelters because of unemployment, loss of income, eviction or domestic violence. Some work multiple jobs and long hours but still remain entrenched below the poverty line.

The Times describes these families, which make up three quarters of New York’s homeless shelter population, as “cloaked in a deceptive, superficial normalcy”:

“They do not sleep outside or on cots on armory floors. By and large, their shoes are good; some have smartphones. Many get up each morning and leave the shelter to go to work or to school. Their hardships — poverty, unemployment, a marathon commute — exist out of sight.”

 In the past few years, local charities have seen the need for eviction prevention assistance and other housing related services increase dramatically. In the 2011 year, Catholic Charities prevented eviction for more than 4,800 families, and helped an additional 17,000 families find emergency shelter, transitional housing or permanent affordable housing.

Learn more about Catholic Charities services for those in danger of homelessness, and contact us for help.

What I Discovered in the Bronx During New York’s Homelessness Survey

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

By Richard Bertin

February 1, 2012 — On the night of Monday, January 30, I took part in NYC’s 10th annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) — a citywide survey administered by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and dependent upon thousands of volunteers to count the homeless found in public spaces. I had mixed feelings in the days leading up to this volunteer project, but when I returned home, at around 4am, I brought back with me a profound sense of gratitude for everyday things that many take for granted.

This year, the volunteer team from Catholic Charities New York was dedicated to the Bronx. Along with hundreds of fellow volunteers, we gathered at one of two sites — Lehman College or PS/IS 194. I chose Lehman College since it was closest to my apartment and because of my familiarity with the area. After being rounded up into “teams” and receiving a detailed training session from DHS reps, we were given neighborhood walking maps and finally set off into the night at half past midnight.

My team was assigned the Riverdale section of the Bronx, an affluent enclave known more for its beauty than its homeless population. My teammates and I were a bit puzzled over this assignment but still took our orders seriously.

The eight of us resembled a civic-minded variation of “The Apprentice,” as we spent the first 30 minutes trying to determine who had the best strategy for canvassing the 10-block radius of sidewalks and alleys. My team was composed of very different and colorful characters, each passionate about the HOPE project. There was Willy B., a large, affable man who talked about how he “does this for a living” each night for a local homeless shelter named The Living Room; Allison, a young off-duty police officer who came all the way from upstate to take part in the survey; Netti, an older Turkish cab driver who was our best “wheel-man”, and many others I will not forget.

Our first area was the most difficult. A Google Map print out with arrows pointing us into different walking directions served as our guide. By the time we got to our location it was after 1am. In such a quiet, secluded area, we were the only souls moving around the stillness of the neighborhood. It was so quiet that someone opened their window and shouted at us “Shut up already! It’s almost two in the morning!” I shot back, “Sorry Sir; we are on official city business here!”  After an hour-long search of the area, we moved on to the second and third maps.

Truth be told, I learned more about homelessness from my team members than anything else. Willy B. explained to me the crucial importance of affordable housing, since many people often don’t realize they are only one pay check or illness away from homelessness. Allison shared stories of “code blue” nights, when police officers perform rescue missions to save those stranded on the streets during life-threatening frigid temperatures and snowstorms.

These stories and these people are what will stick with me most from the evening of HOPE.

As we roamed from sidewalk to sidewalk, alley to alley, and bench to bench, we didn’t find anyone. If we did, we were instructed by DHS to ask them the questions of the survey and ultimately direct them towards a nearby shelter. I didn’t think this was the most accurate method for determining the homeless population, but HOPE is designed to be more of a homeless program evaluation method than a census.

Similar to the infamous “mystery shoppers” that anyone who has ever worked retail is familiar with, the HOPE survey serves as a snapshot to determine how well New York Homeless Services is doing in keeping people off the street.

By 3:30am we were finished but hadn’t found any homeless in our assigned areas. With the exception of a stray alley cat, our tours indicated that Riverdale doesn’t seem to have any homeless problems.  When we returned to Lehman College we found out that most teams, 10 in total, had similar results.

I did wonder – what would these results look like on a warmer night?

As New Yorkers, we are familiar with homelessness. We see it as we bustle through the sidewalks on our way to work. We ignore it when we burry our heads into our tablets on the train while someone pleads with an entire subway car for help.  It’s just one of those harsh realities of living here that we come face to face with each day and yet manage to keep from intruding on our lives. As we roamed the streets, I couldn’t help but think about my warm bed waiting for me. When I finally got back home and dove head first into my mattress I thought how fortunate I was to have this luxury.

New York Archdiocese Joins Forces to Feed Our Neighbors

Friday, January 20th, 2012

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By Marianna Reilly

January 20, 2012 — From January 22 through January 29, organizations throughout the Archdiocese of New York will join forces to help address the hunger crisis in our community. The Feeding Our Neighbors campaign is a unified response to Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan’s call to “feed the hungry in the name of Jesus,” ensuring that none of our neighbors are turned away when they look to the church for help. Learn more and join the campaign today.

Join the fight against hunger. Tell us what you will be contributing to our Archdiocesan-wide drive on Facebook.

Looking for ideas? Check out this guide to food donations:

The Archdiocese of New York network needs these nutritious foods:

Vegetables

  • Canned Vegetables
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Vegetable Soups
Fruits

  • Canned Fruits (in juice or light syrup)
  • Dried Fruits
  • 100% Fruit Juices
Proteins

  • Beans- canned or dry
  • Peanut Butter
  • Nuts
  • Canned Meat (chicken, beef, ham)
  • Canned Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines)
  • Canned Stews (chicken or beef)
Grains

  • Rice (white, brown, flavored)
  • Pasta/noodles
  • Dry Cereal and Hot Cereal (grits, oatmeal, farina)
  • Flour/Cornmeal/Baking Mixes
  • Whole Wheat Crackers
  • Couscous
Dairy

  • Dry Milk packets
  • Shelf stable milk
  • Soy/Almond/Rice Milk
Other Items

  • Nutritional Beverages (Boost, Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast)
  • Spices
  • Coffee/Tea
  • Personal Care Items

To ensure safety, we cannot use:

  • Rusty or Unlabeled Cans
  • Avoid glass containers and all perishable foods
  • Homemade Items
  • Noncommercial Canned Items
  • Noncommercial Packaged Items
  • Alcoholic Beverages & Mixes
  • Open or Used Items

Increase in Hunger Leads to Overcrowding at New York Job Centers

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Nearly 35% of children in the Bronx are going hungry.

By Marianna Reilly

The increase in hunger in our community is leading to a serious overcrowding problem at New York City job centers, reports the Wall Street Journal in the January 3 article, “Welfare Lines Overflow.”

Because many job centers are located in facilities that also provide public assistance benefits like food stamps, and because some of these facilities have been consolidated, it appears that the number of individuals seeking assistance is becoming too large for many centers to manage.

The influx in individuals seeking food stamps to job centers creates lines that are so long and crowds that are so large that many clients are forced to wait outside hours before doors open, just for a chance to be seen, or get to an appointment on time.

The danger, the article says, is that people will opt not receive critically-needed benefits in order to avoid the frustration of long waits. This might already be happening, since records show that the number of food-stamp recipients dropped by 13,000 people in November 2011.

The Journal writes that Speaker Christine Quinn plans to call for hearings to examine the decrease because other indicators—the unemployment rate and food-stamp enrollment statewide—don’t reflect an improvement in the economy.

In the past two years, the number of New Yorkers receiving food stamps has increased by 200,000 – a reality we’ve seen firsthand at Catholic Charities.

As we try to do as much as we can to help those in need, we are reminded that it is our calling and our responsibility as Catholics to help those who have nowhere else to turn.

We also have to ensure that administrative hurdles don’t restrict public assistance from flowing to those in our community who need it most. At a time when so many are facing prolonged unemployment and an unpromising job market, our neighbors need all the help we can provide.

Day 5 of the Food Stamp Challenge: How Obesity is Connected to Poverty

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

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This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge. Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

November 2, 2011 — Five days into the Food Stamp Challenge and I feel like a beaten man.

- I’m much more tired than usual.
- My mind keeps wandering off.
- I’m grumpier.
- Also, I can’t stand the sight of another peanut butter sandwich.

It only took a few days of painfully bland but carefully rationed canned soup dinners to (1) realize that I was depriving myself of energy and (2) understand why obesity is more prevalent among the poorer American population.

Yesterday, after my banana-and-yogurt breakfast, I went to the gym – and approximately 20 minutes into my workout, I flat out ran out of gas.

I was getting used to subduing my hunger, but there was no trick to get around the fact that my body was not ingesting enough calories to sustain myself. With barely $2 left for “emergency” food, I darted into the nearest Burger King.

Over the past few days, my caloric intake was barely getting past 1000. And yes, that is partly my fault for not properly strategizing my grocery list. Looking at the calorie counts on the menu board, it was easy to find single items with two times the calories I was now used to ingesting. I dove into a whopper and fries and threw up my white flag for the day.

Then I looked around, and saw a number of families with children also feasting on their meals. I saw a number of elderly folks as well.  The place was packed and it wasn’t even noon. This can’t be right, I thought.

When you are hungry, the last thing on your mind is nutrition. And when you are poor, fast food is a cheap remedy for an empty stomach. It’s largely by design that so many fast food chains are in poor urban areas.  I know how bad fast food is nutritionally, but when I was hungry, with little more than spare change in my pocket, there was no way I could pass up a whopper.

Even when I’m not living on $31/week, I am exhausted after getting home late from a work and school, plus an hour and half train and bus ride. The last thing I have energy for is cooking a nutritious meal.

So what about the more physical lives of poorer people? Many work more than one job. Many are on their feet longer than the typical office lackey, and many have to carve time out of the day to attend to children.  Fast food is an easy solution for hectic lives.

But relying on fast food can quickly lead to an overconsumption of calories.  Add that to the poor nutritional value of fast food, and it’s not hard to see why obesity is a common mark of a poor urban area.

So don’t be so quick to point to the obesity epidemic as evidence that hunger is not a serious problem in America. Because hunger and obesity are both components of a larger issue: poverty.

Why I’m Living on a Food Stamp Budget

Friday, October 28th, 2011

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This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge.Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge. And I think you should too. That’s right — for the next week, I will be subsisting on the food budget of someone on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP), more commonly known as “Food Stamps.” We are so used to hearing about starving populations in underdeveloped countries that we can be fooled into thinking that this doesn’t happen in our own backyard. Well it does. Nearly 50 million American families are food-insecure.

I hope that by taking this “Food Stamp Challenge,” I’ll be able to gain an emotional and physical perspective on our nation’s hunger crisis. It’s easy to talk about stats and figures, but it’s another thing to actually experience what poverty means, and feels like.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, but when I first moved out of my parents house I was used to relying on dollar menus and ramen noodles to get me through the week, so I feel that I’m prepared.

If you’ve been following the challenge, you know the rules. I have $31.50 to spend on food for the entire week – the average weekly allotment for an individual on food stamps. That means no more office coffee and donuts for me, no other free food – including those chocolates my boss gives out every now and then – and definitely no restaurants.

Participants can use coupons to shop, but can’t eat any items already in the fridge or pantry as part of the food supply for a total of 7 days.

My Shopping List

Since I’ve been asked so many times, I’m sharing my shopping list for the challenge. Just for fun, I also kept track of the expenses of my “last meal” that I had before I went shopping – ironically, I spent $31.25 on a meal for two of burgers and fries at a popular burger shop near my school, New York Burger Co.

Then, I went to my neighborhood Pathmark in the Coop City area of the Bronx and ended up with the following:

  • (5) cups of Yoplait Yogurt (5 for $4)
  • Bananas
  • Florida’s Natural Orange Juice (no pulp!)
  • Organic peanut butter by some brand I never heard of
  • Loaf of bread that was packaged in a design strangely similar to Wonder Bread.
  • (2) bowls of Annie Chun’s Ramen Noodles (Say what you about ramen noodles, but Annie Chun is in a totally different class!)
  • (2) Cans of soup (vegetable barley was .99 cents each)
  • Box of “Pathmark” branded granola bars
  • 5-pack of Chiquita apple slices & dip

The total of all this was $24.77, which leaves me with $6.73 for “emergency funds.” My strategy was to only spend close to $25 so that I can have at least some cash left over so I can treat myself to a quick NY hotdog or slice of pizza.

Throughout the next week, I’ll be answering your questions about the challenge here and on Facebook – just leave a note on the wall, or a comment below, and I’ll answer you as best as I can.

Please leave your words of advice or encouragement below – I’ll need it!

Take the Food Stamp Challenge

Monday, October 24th, 2011

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By Marianna Reilly

Could you survive on $1.50 per meal – for an entire week?

October 27 to November 6, we challenge you do just this. Join us in taking the Food Stamp Challenge, and learn what it is like to subsist on a food budget of only $31.50 per week – the average weekly allotment for an individual who receives food stamps. Participants are challenged to only consume food purchased for the challenge (that means no free office coffee, no stocked-up pantry items).

It will be hard, but you will be in good company.

Joining in you in taking on this challenge will be Catholic Charities Executive Director, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Justice and Peace Coordinator Tom Dobbins, and Richard Bertin, associate producer of the Sirius Radio show JustLove will all be subsisting on a food stamp budget and blogging about their experiences right here.

We want to hear from you too: Tell us about your victories, your struggles… and your best low-cost meal ideas, to support the rest of us who are trying to make it through a week with no restaurants.

Accept the challenge on Facebook today!

Here are the Challenge Guidelines:

1. Each person can only spend a total of $31.50 on food and beverages during the Challenge week – this translates to $4.50 per day, or $1.50 per meal.

2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out must be included in the total spending.

3. During the Challenge, eat only food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).

4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including food at receptions or coffee in the office

5. Please keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.

6. Share your Food Stamp Challenge by writing an op-ed for your local newspaper, blogging, sharing a reflection on the Fighting Poverty with Faith website, advocating for feeding programs, and more.

7. Donate the additional money you would have spent on food during this week to a local food bank or anti-hunger advocacy organization (optional).

Will you join us? Accept the Challenge now.

Why We Shouldn’t Use the Word “Poverty”

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

We are becoming a poorer nation. The median income for a male full-time worker has remained virtually unchanged since 1973. In 2010, the poverty level increased from 14.3% in 2009 to 15.1%. In New York alone, 63,000 additional people fell below the poverty line last year, and the nationwide child poverty rate grew by a whopping 18% during the past decade.

Instead of moving forward, we are moving backward.

It seems that in our talk about spending and taxes, there’s a little too much anger and yelling – and also, a little too much use of the word “poverty.”

Poverty is a concept. Talking about poverty can blind us to the actual experience of being poor, which for many, means:

-          Your child doesn’t get a good education

-          Your family can’t get a nutritious meal

-          Your senior parent is living in housing that is unsafe, or unhealthy

-          The breadwinner in your family can’t find a job

This is not some abstract notion of “poverty” referred to in political speeches or Census analytics. It’s the cold, hard reality of being poor.

It seems the only question before us is: Can we provide the basic necessities for our population? What we need to try to work for as a society and as an economy is to make sure that everybody has access to the things that make us human – a place to live that’s safe, decent food to eat, and a job… for indeed, contributing to society through work and labor is part of what it means to be human.

If we could just think and talk in terms of people who are poor, and the challenges they endure — if we could shift the conversation from the abstract to the actual reality, then we might finally be able to get somewhere.

Do you agree? Do you see a difference between “poverty” and “being poor”?