By Michael Hill
Susan Parker says a divorce left her hungry and homeless.
“You really can’t even describe the level of devastation you feel when you don’t have a place to sleep, you don’t have a place to take a shower,” she said.
Angela Jackson found out after she was downsized in the financial sector and then her 6-year-old cleaning business lost its customers. She lived off her savings.
“That all ran out. It gets cold in a car,” Jackson said.
Teacher Leigh Taylor and her two children with disabilities became homeless when the rent was raised.
“It can happen to anybody,” she said.
Shakir Salaam lost two jobs at Revel Casino, in building the mega structure and cleaning its windows till it went out of business. He now washes dishes for 16 hours a week at $8.50 an hour to support a wife and three children.
“Disastrous. It’s disastrous,” he said.
The faces of hardship at the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey’s annual summit, where executive director Serena Rice talked about weeding out poverty by uncovering the roots of racial and economic injustice through a series of listening sessions across the state. One Camden High School student complained college guidance was an introduction to a bank university.
“They were basically being taken to a place where they could start off taking a job as a customer service rep,” Rice said.
“It tells me we’re sending messages to our youth of color that we don’t expect much of them,” said Rice.
The summit had workshops to hear from policy analysts and non-profits and elected leaders about how to weed out poverty.
The stories of hardship and poverty are well documented and for those who are homeless and hungry every day and for those who advocate for them, what do they want done about it to make a change?
“I know how we start the conversations that are going to help address it and I think those conversations really involved bringing partners,” said NJ Health Initiatives Director Bob Atkins.
These students from the Academy for Urban Leadership in Perth Amboy produced public service announcements for the Jewish Renaissance Foundation calling for minimum pay at $25 an hour.
“If people are educated on this topic and awareness is raised about it that we can find a solution to it,” said Yamile Perez.
The Anti-Poverty Network says one in four New Jerseyans is really struggling thanks to what it describes as low-paying service sector jobs.
“The solutions to poverty like in the causes of poverty and the causes are systemic,” said Rice.
Parker now works at Catholic Charities as a peer advocate and she’s on the board of the Anti-Poverty Network.
“I think once people become aware of the devastation that poverty and being hungry and being homeless, I think it would automatically move forward,” she said.
Awareness about an issue that often hides in plain sight.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.