Poverty Awareness – More than Just a Month

I see it every day. My 15-minute trek through BedStuy, or, Bedwick, per the realty trend of the hour -is painted with grim reminders. Sploshed between brownstones poised for million-dollar renovations are ill-maintained housing projects and the rundown remnants of abandoned homes turned squatting quarters. Latchkey children bound for overcrowded classrooms line the counters of bodegas with “quarter water” drinks and candy tabs. Crowded buses and trains are an odd blend of the neighborhood’s new young professionals and those struggling to survive the age of the gentrified. I see it where I live, and its perils inform the mission of where I work. Poverty: a very real issue in a very torn city.

Among things to celebrate in January is an outlier – an awareness month of opposing jollity: it is Poverty in America Awareness Month; a designated time where social justice advocates, faith leaders, and political groups highlight and mobilize the public to aid in human service activity to quell its blatant rise.

Personally, I realize the need for such awareness and salute these well-intentioned efforts with a renewed commitment of my own. The fact is, however, that poverty is happening EVERY DAY. When January is over, and the attention and dollars of kind hearts are rerouted to another cause, there will remain homelessness, unemployment, food insecurity, unaffordable child care, among others – so what happens then?  I work with more than 300 people in a community of change; as staff of one of NYC’s largest settlement houses, I see firsthand that the work extends far past 40-hour shifts or time clocks. Our teams of outreach workers line the streets 24/7, seeking out those vulnerable men and women with no homes, and provide respite and safety. Each day, homebound seniors look for our vans to deliver what may be their only meals of the day. Students who live below the poverty line are guided by our committed Options counselors who help make college a reality for them. As do the needs, the list of what we must do to meet them, abounds.

So, while a month of awareness is appreciated, more than that, a daily commitment of service from both city leaders and the community-at-large must be the norm. People-policies must be enacted. And decision makers must  place neighborhood concerns at the top political agendas.

And every day, of every month, we must be more than aware – WE MUST ACT.

Christina McSwain
PR and Communications Manager, Goddard Riverside