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College examines poverty

Megan Loney | Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Linda Wolfson, a member of the Community Forum for Economic Development, put poverty in concrete perspective at Saint Mary’s Human Rights Panel discussion on Monday.

“Poverty is not a statistic,” she said. “It is not an amount of money you have to make over the line or under the line. It’s people.”

Students and staff spent part of their lunch hour listening to a discussion sponsored by the Saint Mary’s College Justice Education Program and the Office for Civic and Social Engagement in Stapleton Lounge Monday from 12 to 1 p.m.

As the second part of a spring lecture series commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the panel focused on the right to live free from the hardship of poverty.

The discussion featured panelists who have experience living in poverty, four of whom were guests from Hope Ministries and the Center for the Homeless in South Bend. For privacy reasons, the panelists requested that The Observer not use their last names.

A guest from Hope Ministries who identified herself as Rose described how the Center has helped her to escape a life on the streets.

“I had hit rock bottom,” she said. “I lost my kids, everything. Hope is helping her get them back slowly but surely.”

With the help of Hope Ministries, Rose said she has been able to improve her education, grow closer to God and take care of her 10-month old daughter, who also resides at Hope Ministries.

“It’s my home,” she said of Hope Ministries. “It’s my family. They made me feel welcome and accepted me and my daughter from the moment we arrived.”

Another guest from Hope Ministries who identified herself as May shared her story of homelessness. Unlike some stereotypes of homeless people, she did not find herself on the streets because of alcoholism or drug abuse. Her medical condition caused her to lose her job, she said.

According to May, Hope Ministries helped her to fill out applications for disability pay, which she earned. May said she can now “have hope again.”

A guest from the Center for the Homeless who identified himself as Andrew spoke about his past as a functioning drug addict who checked into the Center after losing his job in Chicago. With the help of the Center, he has had surgery to replace both of his knees and the opportunity to pursue his education.

Andrew said entering the Center has helped him to mend a strained relationship with his family.

A man who identified himself as Marcus was forced to return to the Center for the Homeless for a second time when the recession hit and he lost his job. He is currently searching for another job.

Wolfson focused on the problem of poverty in St. Joseph County.

“In 2007, 23.3 percent of families in St. Joseph County were in poverty,” she said. “I am sure this number has increased now that we are in a recession.”

One way to fight poverty is to increase the minimum wage, according to Wolfson. The current national minimum wage is $6.55 an hour a figure that will rise to $7.25 in July, she said.

Although President Barack Obama has a plan to eventually raise the national minimum wage to $9.50, recent statistics show this is not enough, she said.

According to Wolfson, for someone to be self-sufficient in St. Joseph County, they need an hourly wage of $12.90 full time.