Summit puts faces on poverty in 32304 zip code
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Some of the faces of poverty were on display as they told stories of their struggles to overcome at the second Prosperity for All Summit – a nearly four-hour long discussion that organizers hope will change the dynamics in Leon County.
The recent summit held at New Mount Zion AME Church was the second in a series of four intended to find answers to resolve poverty facing residents in the 32304 zip code. Several of the area’s non-profit resource agencies participated along with some of their clients as well as city and county government officials.
“The end game is not to have some plan that goes on a shelf, but to have a set of strategies that different businesses, non-profits say this is what we are going to do to make these things happen,” said Tom Taylor, one of the facilitators. “Some things they can do on their own and other things that may take a policy change to make that happen.”
Efforts to attack poverty have been underway since the Florida Chamber of Commerce reported that Leon County ranks 14th in the state for the number of children living in poverty. Most live in the 32304 zip code, the report said.
Additionally, 1 in 2 Big Bend residents have a hard time providing everyday needs, according to a United Way report in 2017. The report focused on those classified as working poor who are struggling with ALICE, better known as Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed.
Laticia Barry has been there. She told about being a single parent of four boys who got caught up in abusive relationships. One of her relationships even led to an arrest that made it difficult for her to achieve much, she said.
She persisted, though, and eventually reached out to the Community Action Agency and Ready 4 Work to begin turning her situation around. Change for the better began to happen, she said, when she realized she had to let her past go.
“A lot of us hold onto childhood hurt; childhood things,” said Barry, who cited the Community Action Agency’s Getting Ahead program for her progress. “But in order to move forward in life you have to release things that happened in your life.
“You can’t hold anyone accountable for things that happened when you were a child.”
During a working segment, participants tackled 10 key points that could affect poverty. They included engaging and supporting self-sufficiency and fulfillment of personal potential, create more and better living wage jobs at all skill levels, provide entrepreneurial opportunities, remove legal, social and economic barriers to success, provide affordable housing.
Also: provide accessible, affordable adult and childcare, provide affordable mental and physical healthcare and food, provide pre-k-12 education and support needed to succeed, assure accessible, affordable vocational and high education, and coordinate and efficiently deliver better, more accessible services from multiple partners.
Poverty-related social issues seemingly resonate with the City Commission, which earlier this year made reducing poverty part of its strategic plan.
“We are committed to promoting prosperity for all,” said City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the 32304 zip code or 32301; whatever zip code you’re in our job is to work hard so that everyone has an equal opportunity for prosperity.”
Studies have found that the issues the groups discussed have a direct correlation to poverty. James Ollins vouched for that during the segment on “stories from the frontline.”
Ollins, who was incarcerated for 26 years, said he was astonished after his release to find that Tallahassee has “tons of resources” to help people get on their feet. However, he said actually getting the help he needed wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
“You can’t give me high ideal if there is nothing in my belly,” he said. “You can’t give me a job if I have nowhere to live.”
He got a start by enrolling and completing a re-entry program at Ready 4 Work, he said. He has since gone on to complete his first semester at Tallahassee Community College, making the honor roll, he said.
Cases such as Ollins’ are one reason that some of the county and city resource agencies were invited to participate in the summit, said County Commissioner Bill Proctor.
“We think that combined, there is a unified voice and hopefully policy maker who want to see 32304 not be Florida’s most impoverished zip code, not be considered Florida’s most illiterate zip code,” said Proctor, who initiated the idea for the summit with backing from Commissioner Rick Minor. “We think there is a vested interest that all of them have.”
Freda Hart, a family service director with ECHO, said her agency is already involved with others to be more effective. However, she said a more collaborative effort is needed in the fight against poverty.
“It’s going to take the community,” she said. “It’s going to take churches; pastors who have those people (in poverty) before them every Sunday morning.”
A Census Track map of poverty rates shows the affected area in the 32304 runs from FSU campus to the Ochlocknee River. Some of the most affected areas include Frenchtown, Callen, Liberty, Providence, Bond, and Apalachee Ridge, said Miaisha Mitchell, executive director of the Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council.
The poverty rate in the areas she outlined is a staggering 51.58 percent, with 20 percent of children in those areas being food insecure, she said. Additionally, 43 percent of households are considered to be among the working poor of whom 25 percent is in poverty, Mitchell said.
The next two summits should be completed before the end of summer, Proctor said. He added that the meetings will be followed by getting the information into the hands of policy makers.
“We will try to be a consolidated voice; a political muscle combined,” he said. “But his is not politics. This is humanity. This is life. This is recognizing that human social needs; food, clothing, shelter are real.”