Poverty report is call to action

by Daan Braveman in D & C Dec. 15, 2013

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.

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