Women United view poverty in area and how to help change it

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted 5/26/19

Women United, a women’s group affiliated with the United Way of the Ocoee Region, recently got a look at what poverty looks like in Bradley County and how people can help. Candice Natola, …

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Women United view poverty in area and how to help change it

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Women United, a women’s group affiliated with the United Way of the Ocoee Region, recently got a look at what poverty looks like in Bradley County and how people can help. 

Candice Natola, chief resource officer for the United Way of the Ocoee Region, and Kelley Weber, assistant director of the H.O.P.E. Center Inc./10th Judicial District Children's Advocacy Center, shared with the group. 

“Poverty is a really powerful force, and it always works against the community it’s in,” Natola said. “No community is immune to poverty. It’s not just happening in other countries or in other cities. It’s happening here in Bradley County.” 

Natola added a community cannot just ignore those in poverty, because the effects of poverty can ripple through a community over multiple generations.

She noted poverty is “not just one issue” that can easily be solved. Rather, people get stuck in the cycle of poverty due to multiple circumstances. 

She told the story of a woman living in government housing who had a broken window and was ordered to have the window fixed, costing her $30. Unfortunately, the $30 she spent was money she usually used for bus fare to get to work. 

That meant she had to rely on others to give her rides to work, and not having reliable transportation occasionally made her late. After being late three times, this woman was let go from her job, leaving her in worse financial shape than when she started. 

“That was not just one issue. … Having to fix the window led to, ‘Can I keep my job and feed my family?’” Natola said. “Poverty is messy. It’s complicated. It would be so much easier to solve if it was just one issue.” 

Natola noted people in poverty are living under extremely high stress levels, which is why someone in need of help might find something which might seem minor to be a cause for distress. They know that small things can add up to big stressors. 

While many people believe the key to eliminating poverty is to give everyone jobs, Natola said it is important to also acknowledge how poverty affects people’s ways of thinking. It also affects how they are treated by others. 

Weber said people begin being defined by their poverty status while they are children, especially if they face difficulties in school. 

“We are looking at children, even when they are young, by their socioeconomic status and seeing whether they will survive and be productive citizens,” Weber said.  "That follows you." 

Weber, who has also taught middle school, said she has always tried to be intentional about telling students that paying attention and working hard in school will help them break the cycle of poverty.

She noted many who come from homes affected by generational poverty are not hearing that at home. 

Natola  noted there are many adults in Bradley County who are “working their butts off” to keep their families afloat and to overcome poverty. However, they still face day-to-day challenges, like unexpected expenses, which can easily set them back. 

Bradley County has a poverty rate of close to 20%, Natola said. The average rent is approximately $700 a month, and many people in poverty lack the resources and credit history to buy a home. 

Some 17% percent of Bradley County residents are also uninsured and at risk of having to scramble to pay for unexpected health emergencies. 

“This is typically the working poor, the demographic of people who are working and are not at the federal poverty line, but they cannot afford health care,” Natola said. 

She added Bradley County has limited public transportation, which can be a problem for people trying to get to work or other resources they need. 

A Women United member who volunteers with local organization The Caring Place told the story of a woman who arrive out of breath after walking several miles to get food for her family. She lived outside the bus system’s regular route. 

“There is no one solution to poverty,” Natola said. “There are so many layers to addressing that situation. For example, you might find someone a job, but how are they going to get there?” 

Natola also said childcare is another big obstacle for parents — especially those who are single parents. Many of the entry-level manufacturing jobs plentiful in this area require night and weekend work, yet there are little to no childcare options during those hours. Some parents simply cannot afford childcare, she added. 

Weber, whose office helps children who have been victims of abuse and neglect, said the H.O.P.E. Center has seen some abuse cases stemming from parents leaving their children with neighbors while they go to work, without knowing for sure whether they can be trusted. 

Weber also shared how adverse childhood experiences, like abuse and neglect, can affect how a person’s brain develops. Recent studies have also added poverty to the list of adverse childhood experiences which can affect development. 

Natola said there are many wonderful organizations in the community which are helping people address the symptoms of poverty, like a lack of food. Some, like The Caring Place, are also helping people with programs designed to help them break the cycle of poverty. 

She added the community can help by supporting the United Way and these organizations which are working to improve the poverty “survival rate.” 

Natola told the story of one man who had managed to leave a life of poverty. He said he was “just lucky,” because he had been presented with an opportunity to succeed. The United Way is working on helping more such people find opportunities. 

“If we look at it like we do diseases, there is about a 10% survival rate out of poverty. …. We need to increase that rate,” Natola said. 

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