(Editor's Note: This is the ninth in a series exploring poverty in Bradley County and the Ocoee Region, as well as the growing number of local families struggling to survive as the "working …
(Editor's Note: This is the ninth in a series exploring poverty in Bradley County and the Ocoee Region, as well as the growing number of local families struggling to survive as the "working poor.")
One segment of today's ALICE population in Cleveland and Bradley County cannot be described as the "working" poor, yet they face the same struggles and concerns.
ALICE is the acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE is a study on statewide, and community, poverty conducted by the United Ways of Tennessee.
This group mentioned above is mostly unemployed, but they were working until recently. They might be called the retired, or elderly, poor.
They are people who have reached retirement age, but their retirement, and/or savings, might not quite cover monthly expenses.
Some elect to continue with employment of some type, or take advantage of a number of assistance programs to offset their financial shortage.
Among these programs is one of Bradley County's best kept secrets, the Bradley County Senior Center on Urbane Road, adjacent to the Cleveland Family YMCA.
A discussion with Senior Center Director Sharon Westfield was enlightening as to the financial strain on many of her members in today's society. Westfield emphasized it is not only finances her seniors deal with.
"They also need socializing, communication and activities," she said.
Westfield estimates between 50% and 60% of her members struggle with finances, and being able to meet their financial responsibilities when they pay for utilities, and purchase food and clothes.
The center director said she has more than 700 visits to the senior center every week, although many of these visits are by the same people, to different programs, the noon meal, or multiple activities. Westfield said she has a core group of 40 to 60 active members who are at the center on regular schedules for activities and events they enjoy.
She emphasized that just being a member of the center is an economic benefit for the community's senior.
"Membership is only $10 per year," she said. Also, the noon meal, five weekdays each week, is another bargain at only $1.50 per person, and includes a healthy and delicious mixture.
Then there are the many activities and programs provided on a daily basis. There are card games and puzzles, the billiard room, gospel singing, karaoke, bridge, line dancing, Dance Night, Weight Warriors, Bingo and special holiday activities.
Westfield said Monday, Wednesday and Fridays are the busy, with gospel music on Monday, Line Dancing on Wednesday, and Bingo Friday.
The center also has several awareness programs each month, such as the different types of cancer, veteran groups, health and wellness, the provision of flu shots, and entertainment. There is also a regular supply of refreshments.
Westfield said a number of members spend almost as much time at the center as they do at home.
"They call it their second home," she laughed.
Despite the fact the center keeps its members active, Westfield admitted there is also concern for many, perhaps a majority who may be struggling with day-to-day expenses, and barely getting by. She said there are times when some of the seniors don't have the $1.50 for a noon meal.
The ALICE report does not divide seniors into a specific category, but many are struggling all the same.
Many seniors, for any number of reasons, reach retirement age without enough of a nest egg, and now find themselves low on money.
Many use discount shopping, for food and clothing, to offset the shortage. They also cut down on heating and air conditioning, and personal items.
"It's a real challenge for many seniors, who may or may not be among the ALICE population in the amount of spending money available," said Westfield.
There are a number of programs available to provide assistance. But many, like Bradley County's Senior Center, are not well known by the senior populace.
A few national programs available for the elderly include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (TennCare in Tennessee), Extra Help, Food Stamps, SSI, commodities and others.
Contacting the Social Security Administration office in Cleveland can be of help in becoming more familiar with elderly programming, or the Cleveland/Bradley Community Services Agency can provide information.
Another website that could be helpful to retirees, especially those with limited sources in retirement, is Benefitscheckup.org.
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