The Rochester Area Community Foundation’s report on the extent of poverty in our community should be the final call to action. The executive summary concludes: “Rochester — the fifth poorest city in the country (among the 75 largest metro areas)?” …
“Rochester — the city with the third highest concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods (among the top 100 metropolitan areas in the country)?
“Rochester — the poorest school district in upstate New York?
“Rochester — the poorest large urban school district in New York state?
“Rochester? Yes, Rochester.”
The report provides the disturbing statistics that detail the extent of poverty not only in Rochester but throughout the region. To be sure, these statistics are important, but they should not obscure the day-to-day human costs of poverty, especially to our children. A number of years ago the Washington-based Children’s Defense Fund described the human impact in the following way: “Poverty stacks the odds against children before birth and decreases their chances of being born healthy and of normal birth weight or of surviving; it stunts their physical growth and slows their educational development; frays their family bonds and supports; and increases their chances of neglect or abuse. Poverty wears down their resilience and emotional reserves; saps their spirits and sense of self; crushes their hopes; devalues their potential and aspirations; and subjects them over time to physical, mental, and emotional assault, injury, and indignity. Poverty even kills.”
It is time for our community to pick up where the RACF report ends. We have the necessary studies and now need a strategic plan to address the causes and effects of poverty. As we know, too often wellcrafted reports are placed on a shelf only to be referenced years later when a new report is prepared. Someone or some entity — perhaps the RACF itself, the United Way or newly elected Mayor Lovely Warren — should convene an Anti-Poverty Commission consisting of work groups charged with developing concrete recommendations that can lead to the reduction of poverty.
There may be some who understandably will question whether a commission can be effective or is simply the same old thing. In our region we have a model for using commissions that has been successful. Over time, the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency has been a convener of groups that have developed plans to address pressing health needs of the region. We need a similar approach to tackling poverty, and I am certain that there are models from other regions as well. The mayor of the city of Richmond, Va., for example, convened just such a commission, which issued recommendations earlier this year.
The foundation’s report is important because it not only provides a wealth of data but also serves as a call to action. Let’s hope there is a response.
Braveman is president of Nazareth College.