Pioneer Local (Illinois), June 5, 2008: Study: Suburban poverty on the rise

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June 4, 2008


Poverty is not just a Chicago problem, according to a study released in April.

A report by the non-profit Heartland Alliance states that poverty has increased dramatically from 1980 to 2006.

The collar counties of McHenry, Lake, Kane, DuPage and Will now account for 41.5 percent of the regions poor population, up from 23.9 percent in 1980.

The suburbs of Cook County have also seen an increase, from 4.7 percent of the population up to 9 percent. As part of that, the child poverty rate has grown dramatically in the Cook County suburbs, up by 78.4 percent, the study said.

The poverty rate in Chicago, in contrast, increased only slightly during the same time period, from 20.3 percent to 21.2 percent.

The Heartland Alliance did not have figures for individual suburbs.

Sherri Hackett, programs services director of West Suburban Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS), said the report’s findings are consistent with what she’s seen.

“That’s a big misperception, that poverty doesn’t exist in the suburbs,” Hackett said. “Even going back to our origins in 1991, concerned citizens formed PADS because homeless people were already here.”

West Suburban PADS organizes shelters for homeless people from Sept. 15 to May 15. It reaches out to homeless people and offers mental health and substance abuse services and basic medical care with the ultimate goal of helping people move out of homelessness.

Since its beginning, its number of clients has consistently increased. While a small percentage is from the west side of Chicago, the vast majority are suburbanites, Hackett said.

Indeed, the number might be greater than the Heartland Alliance report states, Hackett suggested.

“Households double up,” Hackett said. “If the number of families doubling up is increasing, the stress can wear. We see more and more families and individuals coming out of doubled up households and into our shelter system.”

A contributing factor to homelessness is how pay has not kept up with housing costs.

“That started in the early 1970s,” Hackett said. “That’s why more people are falling into poverty.

Northica Stone, president of Operation Uplift, which serves the 11 communities of Proviso Township, said the number of people seeking help from her agency has increased over the years.

Operation Uplift helps low- to medium-income people find work and housing. It also works with former offenders who move back into the community.

While the number of people seeking help has increased, government funding for her agency has decreased.

“It limits us on the help we can give people,” Stone said.

The challenges are large.

“Employers are reluctant to give people a second chance,” Stone said. “Many of the parents are incarcerated or in the drug culture. Grandpas and grandmas have to start over in raising (their grandchildren).”

Likewise, the Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action now serves 30,000 people, up from around 10,000 in 1988.

“The need is constantly growing,” said Bishop Dr. Claude Porter, PLCCA’s president and CEO. Porter said housing foreclosures and a lack of jobs have caused people to drop into poverty.

“There is a great misconception about suburban poverty,” Porter said. “Ford Heights is the most poverty-driven area there is. That’s in the suburbs. People think in the suburbs everything is fine and rosy. That’s not true.”

To meet that need, the PLCCA is seeking funds from corporations and foundations. It is also diversifying its staff and programs to meet the needs of a growing Hispanic population in the suburbs, Porter said.

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