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Poverty in Forsyth County

'Ths is in your backyard.' An alarming number of individuals are living at or below poverty levels within Forsyth County.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that nearly 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. Studies show that 1 in 5 American children live in poverty.

According to the 2009 US Census, 16.6 percent of Georgians and 16 percent of Forsyth County live below poverty. Further, the per capital money income for 2009 was $25,098 in Georgia ($27,041 nationwide). Cumming residents earned $23,743 the study showed.

Today’s economy plays a role in these situations. Foreclosures top the list of reasons for homelessness in Forsyth County. Community members are displaced from their homes for a number of reasons, including evictions and incarcerations. As families combine residences, often living with grandparents or other relatives, resources are stretched.

But what about the children in these families? Their education is at risk as they may no longer be able to attend school. While they may be allowed to remain where they began the school year, transportation becomes an issue. Cars need gas and maintenance. If transportation proves unreliable, attendance is jeopardized. Even necessities are prioritized. 

According to Kimberly Burke DeRose, Title 1 Coordinator, at , “Forsyth County is unique in that we provide services to families and children no longer living in their primary residence.”

The Founty County Schools Homeless Education program assists every grade from elementary to high school. 

In a phone interview Tuesday, DeRose shared that six students had been enrolled in the program that day. She is confident that more will be added. and are schools with “the highest needs,” according to DeRose. She was quick to add that “other schools have them, just less of them.”

Forsyth County is, according to DeRose, “the 13th most affluent county in the country” and ironically home of  “America’s new poor.” Students whose homes were in some of the more affluent subdivisions now find themselves lacking necessities. There are resources for assistance such asand most churches have a food bank to help. Numerous thrift stores offer low prices on gently used clothing. 

While programs and agencies provide assistance for most needs, certain items are not available: socks and underwear. Students therefore often go without two seemingly insignificant clothing needs. Problems arise in PE classes when the issue of dressing out occurs. Students who don’t dress out face consequences. 

“People who have can give in a meaningful way,” shared DeRose. 

Two local merchants did just that. and Dutch Monkey Donuts recently sponsored bike rides—25 or 50 mile options—where the entry fee was donations of these simple items. As a result of the great response there were three large donation boxes overflowing with socks and underwear, Reality Bikes’ Duncan McGuire said the ride will become an annual event. A rough estimate showed that over 50 cyclists participated in the event. 

Shame is a huge factor in helping students deal with their situation. 

“Kids don’t want others knowing [their situation]. They make up stories because it’s embarrassing. Parents don’t want to socialize [with former neighbors] for the same reason,” said DeRose.

As a result, counselors handle situations discreetly. Food is sent home in backpacks, for example. School staff is aware of the resources within the county and DeRose encourages those who want to help to contact their school counselors who, despite the holiday break, have access to e-mails and voice mail. 

Government reports indicate that enrollment in free or reduced lunch programs is at an all time high. With the break, students will have to rely on “whatever’s at home,” said DeRose. Families with numerous children will obviously have a greater food need. Benefits such as food stamps are often renewed at the beginning of the month, so time off from school at the end of the month, such as this holiday break, may cause greater stress on limited amount of funding. 

DeRose was quick to add that this time of year benevolence is strong. She was quick to add that “these problems don’t go away after Christmas. It’s on-going.” 

For example, DeRose explained that colder winter temperatures bring higher power bills. A parent’s unreliable transportation causes attendance problems because displaced children no longer live in their district and cannot use bus transportation.   

DeRose hopes to raise awareness of the desperate situation of these children and their families. “This is in your backyard,” she said, “these are not your stereotypical ‘under the bridge’ homeless families.”

Hal Schneider December 23, 2011 at 03:26 AM
I wonder if the County Commissioners have read this article????
SOGTP December 23, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Hal Schneider ... this is why they pushed SPLOST VII. Taking more from the people and giving it to government will reduce poverty ... right? I don't think so.

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