Rescue Mission sees no decline in those seeking assistance, despite Census report showing poverty has stalled
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According to recently released 2011 U.S. Census Bureau figures, the poverty rate in our country is no longer on the rise. But that’s no consolation to the roughly 46.2 million people who remain below the official poverty line.
“When you wake up at night worrying when the eviction notice will come … or if there’s enough food in the cabinets to feed your kids until you find a job … the report is insignificant,” said Sherry Pitney, executive director of Rockford Rescue Mission, the area’s largest and most comprehensive provider of services for the hungry, homeless and disadvantaged.
Pitney said that even those who are working are still at risk, as the median family income declined by nearly 2 percent between 2010 and 2011.
“Although the census numbers are calculated on a national level, they certainly include our neighbors here in the Rockford area, many of whom seek our help here at the mission,” Pitney said. “We want to make sure the report doesn’t give the false impression that things are looking up. They’re not.”
One indicator optimism may be premature is the continued and rapid growth in the number of people going to the mission for food. By the end of its fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the mission will have served nearly 157,000 meals to homeless residents and guests, as well as hungry families and individuals from the community. This is a 7 percent increase in the number of meals served last fiscal year.
The challenges faced by people seeking shelter at the mission are another sign the economy is still claiming new victims.
“As many as 20 percent of the women in our Crisis Center are here because they’ve lost their homes — most often through eviction or foreclosure,” Pitney said. “Similarly for the men, 21 percent tell us they simply can’t find affordable housing.”
The mission has also experienced a 7 percent increase in the outreach it extends to other agencies, including food, clothing and personal hygiene items.
“We, of course, provide these to the men, women and families in our care, but we also make them available to other organizations for their assistance programs — so as not to duplicate services,” Pitney said.
Yet, with these unsettling trends comes a positive note. The mission recently received a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago for “bricks and mortar” projects that will be used to fund upgrades that are desperately needed and haven’t been made since the mission opened 12 years ago. Repairs to the roof and plumbing, as well as replacements to HVAC units, bathroom fixtures and floor coverings are planned.
“These restorations wouldn’t haven’t been possible without this grant, which allows us to use the donations we receive from other sources — individuals, churches, businesses — to directly support our programs and services, which are so desperately needed right now,” Pitney said.
She explained that while the census figures are useful for keeping a finger on the pulse of the economic climate across the country, the mission staff is more concerned with the reality of what they see on a daily basis and what those who come through their doors are feeling about their current situations. “And through those glasses, hunger, homelessness and poverty are still claiming the futures of hard-working men and women,” Pitney said.
For more about Rockford Rescue Mission, visit www.rockfordrescuemission.org.
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since 1964, Rockford Rescue Mission provides nutritious meals and safe shelter for thousands of hungry and homeless men, women and children every year, along with recovery programs and outreach services to rescue, recover and restore the lives of those who are struggling in the Rockford community.
Posted Sept. 20, 2012
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