Ind. poverty increasing

That’s up from about 962,000 last year, according to numbers by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Monroe County is the Indiana county with the highest poverty rate, and Bloomington is feeling the effects.

Derek Thomas, policy analyst with the Indiana Institute for Working Families, cites a lack of effective policy and poverty prioritization by state government as part of the reason the number of impoverished Hoosiers jumped to more than 1 million.

“There’s a million people in poverty in Indiana,” Thomas said. “Politicians aren’t talking about it.”

Thomas cited the idea of a social safety net, composed of programs that assist Indiana families through economically challenging times. He said this net is lacking.
“(We should be) improving on public policies in the state that support Hoosiers during these hard times,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet. Our economy is still changing, and we still need those safety nets.”

And while the state continues to operate in a budget surplus, which Thomas called a function of government that receives high media attention, Thomas finds the health of families in the state to be more interesting.

“I think they’re disconnected,” he said. “There’s a completely different story when looking at the economic health of our families.”

The Shalom Community Center, a Bloomington resource center for individuals experiencing homeless and poverty, has seen an increase in the number of meals served. Forrest Gilmore, executive director at the center, said this is a simple indicator of community need. 

About 96 percent of the center’s clients are in extreme poverty, defined as any individual making less than 30 percent of the average median income in the state.

So far this year the center has seen a nearly 15 percent uptick in meals served, and is on track to serve about 84,000 meals by the year’s end.

The increase builds upon a 15 percent increase observed from last year.

“We’re well on pace to serve the most meals we’ve ever served,” Gilmore said. “We’re definitely seeing that impact here in our community.”

The number of individual case management clients has increased, too, up about 10 percent this year to 1,406 individuals.

Jake Bruner, director of development and administration at Hoosier Hills Food Bank, also noticed the increase.

Its mobile food pantry that services Lawrence County has seen anywhere from 30 to 50 more people seeking aid in recent months.

In Bloomington, inventories of food are depleted faster, as donations continue to fall and demand increases.

“We’ve had to make more and more food purchases and increase communication with other food banks,” Bruner said.

Gilmore at Shalom said 2009 was the high point of need in Bloomington for the center, as the recession was first wreaking havoc on the country. Three years later, the center is on pace to meet, if not break, 2009 records of need.

“What’s tragic is the stimulus provided quite a bit of funding to keep people in their homes, but that funding has run out,” he said.

There’s usually a lag time of about three years between homelessness and a major recession, Gilmore said.

“It’s potentially a really bad year with the loss of homeless prevention dollars from the stimulus and the lag time with a major economic crisis,” he said. “This is potentially going to be a rough year.”

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