Even though the Great Recession technically ended in 2009, poverty continues to plague Toledo and in many ways may be getting worse.
Agencies that help Toledoans in poverty such as the Toledo Seagate Food Bank of Northwest Ohio are continually strained by the yearly increase of people seeking help.
Deb Vas, who runs the food bank, said the number of people in need jumps each year — albeit not as much as it did in the years immediately following the national economic nosedive.
“They are saying the economy is changing and that there are more jobs, but we are still looking at new people who need help,” Ms. Vas said. “People who are falling off unemployment, or their hours are reduced ... moms are calling for food for their children.”
The food bank saw a 32 percent increase in people seeking aid last year compared with the previous year. The jump from 2011 to 2012 was 65 percent — of which the vast majority were senior citizens, Ms. Vas said.
Other statistics indicate a miserable situation for many. There are waiting lists for heating assistance and subsidized housing and all of the city’s homeless shelters reported being full this winter. More than 1.8 million Ohioans live in poverty, a number that has increased tremendously in the last decade, according to the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. Poverty increased by 57.7 percent in Ohio between 1999 and 2011, a time during which the state’s population grew by just 1 percent.
Ohio’s statewide poverty rate exceeds the overall national rate. The U.S. Census said the portion of Ohioans from 2008 to 2012 below the poverty line was 15.4 percent compared with 14.9 nationally. In 2008, Toledo was ranked the nation’s eighth-poorest city — meaning nearly one of every four of its residents was living in poverty.
Statistics like those have compelled Toledo leaders to re-examine the city’s poverty problem during the next “Changing Minds and Changing Lives: Combating Racism” speaker series sponsored by the Toledo Community Coalition and The Blade. Stories and commentary about the events can be found at toledoblade.com/toledoforums.
Ruby Payne, co-author of Bridges Out of Poverty, who travels the country speaking about poverty, will be the keynote speaker for the next installment of the series at 7 p.m. Thursday at Central Catholic High School’s Sullivan Center.
Ms. Payne, who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, but grew up in central Ohio, said she has watched the state transform from greater prosperity to where it is now.
Her argument is complex, but Ms. Payne is known for giving presentations for nearly two decades that incorporate a mix of brevity and seriousness — alternating funny stories with sad tales of poverty. The heart of her speeches, books, and research includes the “hidden rules of poverty” and the wide misunderstanding of what traps people in poverty.
“If you are on the political right, you think it is about resources and jobs,” Ms. Payne said ahead of her visit to Toledo. “If you are on the political left, you think it’s about exploitation and systems.”
IF YOU GO
Forum on Poverty
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Central Catholic High School, Sullivan Center.
Keynote speaker: author Ruby Payne.
Sponsors: The Toledo Community Coalition and The Blade.
A new understanding
Ms. Payne was raised in a middle-class, Mennonite family near Johnsville, Ohio. She went to a Mennonite college that required students to live in a third-world country.
“I lived in Haiti in the Caribbean and while I was down there I met a wealthy Italian aristocrat and I dated him and I learned a lot about wealth,” she said. “I came back to the U.S. and met my former husband who died in 2010 and he came out of extreme poverty. ... That’s how I learned a lot about the hidden rules of poverty that you learn before you are 9 or 10 years old.”
Her husband, Frank, grew up well below the poverty line in Goshen, Ind. She said visits to her husband’s impoverished Indiana neighborhood made her realize that she didn’t understand the people living there. The rules of poverty are based on the need for survival, Ms. Payne said.
“Education, employment, and relationships are the three things to get you past survival,” she said. “If you come up in a survival environment, there are going to be certain things you do to learn to survive.”
Ms. Payne has written multiple books and runs her own business called aha! Process Inc., which has more than 50 “trainers.” She has been called an international expert on poverty. Her business offers training sessions, workshops, DVDs, and even autographed coffee cups and books.
Her work has attracted critics who have littered the Internet with jabs at her work.
“My critics are all social determinants — that society holds you back,” Ms. Payne said. “And I say, ‘Oh, it's not so simple.’ ”
Ms. Payne talks in anecdotes and often expounds on the importance of education.
Of the 21,423 students in Toledo Public Schools, nearly 73 percent qualified for free lunch because their family income is below the poverty line. Another 5 percent qualify for reduced-price meals. There are another 9,356 students living in the Toledo Public Schools district but they attend charter schools.
There were 98,359 food stamp recipients in Lucas County last year, who included 40,512 children.
The Rev. Robert A. Culp, pastor of First Church of God in the Old West End and Toledo Community Coalition co-chairman, said poverty and racism go hand-in-hand “like twins.” He lauded Ms. Payne’s work to help people understand that connection.
“Ruby Payne is in my view a truly insightful person who can make us more aware than we have ever been on poverty’s effect on a person,” Mr. Culp said. “She has helped me already and I have had my own experience with poverty. Just reading her book has helped me to grasp the culture of poverty and unless leaders understand the culture of poverty, we will never be able to help people be released from it.”
Coalition member Juanita Greene, former director of the city of Toledo’s Board of Community Relations, said Ms. Payne will run two workshops, at 8:30 a.m. and then at 10 a.m. Thursday at the United Way of Greater Toledo downtown before her speech that evening at Central Catholic.
“The first forum will be designated for CEOs and business leaders,” Ms. Greene said. “She will address them on the effects of poverty and what they can do in reference to hiring practices and how poverty affects the bottom line of any business and community.”
Educators, social workers, and people who operate social agencies are invited to the 10 a.m. workshop.
“When you read her book, education is a very big piece,” Ms. Greene said. “They need to understand that especially when they are dealing with poverty.”