Holistic, targeted approach on poverty

Mar. 21, 2014 @ 03:55 PM

Mayor Bill Bell’s plan on how to address poverty that envelopes neighborhoods in pockets of Durham is taking shape as a data-driven, holistic approach.

A UNC Center for Regional and Urban Studies look at the concentration of poverty in some neighborhoods in Durham is jaw-dropping. North-East Central Durham, with 3,466 residents, has a 61.4 percent poverty rate. The average annual income is $10,005. It is not Durham’s poorest neighborhood, though. Rolling Hills/Southside is. Of that neighborhood’s 1,331 residents, 66 percent of households live below the federal poverty line.
Poverty is complicated, and many people don’t want to get any closer to the issue than giving a donation, serving a meal or donating toys and other gifts during the holidays to help people who are less fortunate. Those acts certainly have a place in helping others, but they are Band-Aids that don’t get to the root problems and perpetuation.
What we like about our mayor’s plan is that it embraces the North-East Central Durham community on so many necessary levels. He’s asked community leaders to form task forces focusing on education, health care, employment, housing and public safety.
He also is working to break down any existing silos, bringing together community leaders and encouraging overlapping areas to work together on identifying issues.
Bell has chosen to begin work in an area where some infrastructure already is focusing on how to break the poverty cycle and improve circumstances for residents.
North-East Central Durham is home to the East Durham Children’s Initiative. Modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, EDCI’s goal is to change the “outcomes and expectations for children and families living in a 120-block area of East Durham,” according to its website.
EDCI also takes a holistic approach, working with the families from the time children are born and continuing with the families until the children are out of high school.
Staff members know the families’ circumstances, and whether there might be, for example, mental health issues. They can connect families with partnering agencies to help.
Bell noted that as the project moves forward, the geographic focus could be narrowed further. That, too, is an important component as issues and needs can vary block by block.
If you do not know someone – or think you don’t know someone -- who is living in poverty in Durham, we would encourage you to find a way to connect with these residents to better understand the challenges they face. The schools and a host of nonprofits offer mentoring, job training and other opportunities to make these connections.
It’s important to reiterate that this is not just a neighborhood issue. It’s one that is important to the health and well-being of our city. It should also be a point on our moral compass.