RALEIGH – An up-close examination of poverty across North Carolina this year revealed the faces behind the statistics of homelessness and unemployment, as well as the people who will help find the solutions, organizers of the anti-poverty tour said Wednesday.
“We have been profoundly changed by what we’ve seen,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at a news conference to discuss the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour.
Leaders of the tour, which included representatives of other socially minded organizations, discussed what they saw during a four-leg trip that began in January and ended a few weeks ago. They’ll also hold a summit this weekend in Rocky Mount to develop strategies for making poverty reduction a focus for policy-makers.
Saturday’s event will include a video featuring impoverished and homeless people they met in 27 different communities. Some of the poor will speak in person to the attendees, Barber said, as well as join strategy sessions on how to improve civic and voting participation among poor communities.
The stories of homelessness and poverty “will bolster a political movement, a long season of engagement and activism and participation,” said Gene Nichol, director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
North Carolina’s poverty rate of 17.5 percent in 2010 was the state’s highest in almost 30 years, according to the North Carolina Justice Center, which advocates for the poor. A disproportionate number of the 1.6 million North Carolina residents living below federal poverty thresholds are black, Latino and children, according to the center, citing U.S. Census figures.
But poverty hurts people living in all parts of the state, not just in rural areas and urban centers, Nichol said. The number of people considered poor and living in the suburbs has grown during the past decade, the N.C. Justice Center said this week.
Nichol recalled meeting homeless veterans in Fayetteville, as well as homeless people in the Raleigh area living in the woods who came out to find what food they could at a homeless shelter before returning to the shadows.
“In the wealthiest country on earth, that’s an outrage and a shame which all have to work to address,” Nichol said.
Barber declined to discuss the next steps for the group, saying he wanted to wait until after Saturday and let summit participants provide input. But an open letter by Nichol and Barber said solutions include equal access to public education, innovative job-creation strategies and investments in infrastructure.
Barber said any poverty-reduction effort will cost money, but said the expense to society is greater if poverty increases.
He said poverty shouldn’t be a partisan issue that divides Democrats and Republicans, because the state constitution that elected officials swear to uphold seeks blessings and equality for all people. The Bible upon which they take the oath has more than 300 verses on the poor and social justice, and God’s concern for them, he said.
“We believe we can come together and challenge the institutional realities that sustain the systems of poverty,” Barber said.