Find­ing ways to help those who are strug­gling

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

A re­cent re­port by the United Way of Charles County showed that more than a quar­ter of Charles County res­i­dents are ei­ther strug­gling just to get by or al­ready liv­ing in poverty.

It’s a tough pill to swal­low.

The re­port, dubbed ALICE, an acro­nym for As­set Lim­ited In­come Con­strained Em­ployed, used stan­dard­ized measurements to sur­vey the grow­ing num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who are work­ing, but are hav­ing dif­fi­culty af­ford­ing ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties in­clud­ing hous­ing, food, child care, health care and trans­porta­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, 25 per­cent of peo­ple liv­ing in Charles County can be cat­e­go­rized as ALICE, while an­other 7 per­cent are al­ready liv­ing in poverty. And the largest per­cent­age of ALICE in­di­vid­u­als are spread out all over Charles County, with 34 per­cent liv­ing in Wal­dorf, 40 per­cent in Cobb Is­land, 45 per­cent in Bryan­town, 37 per­cent in Bryans Road and, per­haps the most un­set­tling, 46 per­cent in In­dian Head.

The re­port also ranked the county as a whole in its abil­ity to pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing, jobs and com­mu­nity re­sources. The county ranked “poor” for af­ford­able hous­ing — noted by lo­cal United Way Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Mike Bel­lis as the “low­est score in the state” — and just “good” for job op­por­tu­ni­ties and com­mu­nity re­sources.

The “house­hold sur­vival bud­get” for a fam­ily of four with one in­fant and one preschooler is $74,688 in Charles, while a sin­gle adult needs to earn $31,536 just to sur­vive with­out liv­ing on the street. Again, that’s to sur­vive, not live com­fort­ably.

So what can be done? There isn’t a magic bul­let here. Three of the five ar­eas iden­ti­fied as hav­ing the largest per­cent­age of ALICE in­di­vid­u­als are in the western part of the county, in Bryans Road, In­dian Head and Cobb Is­land. In­dian Head in par­tic­u­lar has been the cen­ter of the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween its town coun­cil and mayor as an area des­per­ate for re­vi­tal­iza­tion, look­ing to part­ner with both the county and the ad­ja­cent Navy base to make it hap­pen. The Charles County Cham­ber of Com­merce has its Military Al­liance Com­mit­tee work­ing on that prob­lem as well.

The county’s Com­pre­hen­sive Plan has also spurred a great de­bate on how much of the western part of the county should be marked for preser­va­tion ver­sus future de­vel­op­ment. From our point of view, land preser­va­tion is cer­tainly im­por­tant, but so is help­ing those who are liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, los­ing sleep at night won­der­ing how they are go­ing to get to work the next day, or if they need to visit a lo­cal food pantry in­stead of the gro­cery store in or­der to feed their fam­ily.

What is re­as­sur­ing about all of this is that the United Way is in a po­si­tion to do some­thing about it. Charles County is home to a great many or­ga­ni­za­tions that do as­sist those with low in­comes, and most of them are al­ready in some way tied to the United Way. The ALICE re­port will serve as a guide to help the United Way and its part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions find fur­ther ways to of­fer sup­port to th­ese cit­i­zens.

There are a mul­ti­tude of ob­sta­cles in the way in or­der to over­come this harsh re­al­ity, but, hope­fully, the needs of our fel­low men and women will take prece­dence over squab­bling over who gets a larger part of the pie.

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