• 50°

Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry: How poor is poor?

The beginning of each year brings strategic planning to Outreach. One of the data inputs we consider is the concept of “key informants and determinants of poverty.” It is based on the concept of utilizing local knowledge about the levels of relative poverty and wealth. Key informants rank their fellow community members into wealth categories after they have discussed in detail underlying concepts of poverty and wealth within their communities. Then they identify determinants that consistently contribute to keeping people in poverty.

Examples of key informants would be the Department of Social Services, the Health Department, school officials, and Outreach. Listed below are some of the key determinant issues that consistently show up across the board. It is understood that these are some of the most important issues that should be addressed to improve the quality of life for our low income residents (not in any particular order): Employment, Transportation, Child Care, Education, Affordable Housing, Food Insecurity, Access to Affordable Healthcare, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse.

The challenge for the Outreach board of directors is to determine which of these key determinants to focus on that will provide the best client outcomes. We currently provide crisis aid in the areas of food and shelter, which we believe is at the core of providing a stable home environment for families. The Polk County Consolidated Human Services Agency is currently working on tackling mental health issues and substance abuse and the health department provides access to dental and health care. Let’s not forget the school system, which uses all the tools at their disposal to ensure children get a quality education.

One of the determinants that often comes up in discussion is affordable housing. Did you know that the median rent in Polk County is $728 for a modest two-bedroom unit? Three quarters of our clients live on less than $1,500 per month in household income, which means that they would spend about 50 percent of their income on housing alone. That is why 43 percent of our clients live in rural areas in substandard mobile homes – and they are still stretched trying to pay $450 per month because utility and transportation costs are higher.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider so stay tuned this year as our committed board of directors works diligently to improve the lives of those we serve. Strategic plan updates will be forthcoming as they are available.

Outreach is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide compassionate assistance to Polk County residents who are unable to provide for their basic life needs. For more information on Outreach, please visit www.tboutreach.org or call 828-894-2988.