Greenwich? All that’s green isn’t lush
I took a ride around Greenwich last Thursday in areas where the rewards of capitalism line streets with gated mansions that sit on architecturally designed lawns surrounded by landscaped gardens.
I was in the car of David Rabin, the CEO and president of Greenwich United Way, as he introduced me to the town that he has called his “adopted home” since arriving in the 1990s.
We drove on winding streets that appeared more like private roads leading to an endless array of estates. We drove past homes where statues stood like sentinels at driveway entrances, and past homes hidden by thick, lush green foliage and others where only the sprawling tops were visible.
They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side but that is hard to believe when you drive past homes so big they could house 10 families and still have room for guests.
It is a lifestyle of opulence only a few get to enjoy in this land of opportunity called America. It is where old family money shakes hands with new money fostered by Wall Street financiers, movie stars and wealthy politicians.
Songwriter Billy Strayhorn long ago dubbed it a “Lush Life” — and lush it is. And like many other Americans, I can only dream about having it.
But the song doesn’t play for everyone in Greenwich, and as we drove it was not hard to spot all that’s green isn’t lush.
Less than a 30-second drive from the sculpted lawns, stone walls and waterviews lies the other side nobody talks about — the side where social services are in demand and the need is growing.
That is why I was in Greenwich. Like many people, I didn’t know poverty existed in this town synonymous with wealth. It seems unimaginable when considering its grand list of taxable property for 2018 was in excess of $32 billion, and car dealerships on the strip carry names such as Rolls Royce and Bentley.
I guess those financiers, movie stars and wealthy politicians sure bring a lot of zeros to the bottom line.
But looks are deceiving and poverty has become entwined in the ivy.
The town has been “evolving and changing” and, since 2010, has seen a 4 percent surge in its Latino population, many of them in need of assistance.
Rabin said 6 percent of residents live below the poverty level and 22 percent fall under ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, that represents the households with income above the Federal Poverty Level but below the basic cost of living.
“We have four Title 1 schools,” Rabin said. “Ninety percent of the students on the western side of town are eligible for free lunch.”
Rabin said it is difficult for people to see past the mansions and recognize there also is public housing, Section 8 vouchers and a need for food and other services for approximately
17,000 in this town of
But how the Federal Poverty Level is determined is part of the problem, if you ask Rabin’s counterpart at the Greenwich Department of Human Services , whom I met with later that day.
Alan Barry sat in his office on West Putnam Avenue, where he, too, is grappling with solutions to meet the demands of a growing population with greater needs.
The commissioner of the Department of Human Services said conditions for low-income people are getting worse. He said it is inexcusable because the majority of people coming into his agency are working, but the hole keeps getting deeper for them because they do not earn a livable wage.
He said there may be cheers about an unemployment rate that stands at 3.8 percent, but they are not coming from him. He said the vast number of jobs are minimum wage in the service industry and noted people are working two jobs and still reaching out for help.
Barry said with corporations not keeping up their end to pay people responsibly, the push for social services to fill the gap is becoming the norm — and that is not the way it is supposed to be.
“I am frustrated,” he said. “I am really worried we are not doing something about it because we have accepted it.”
Barry said even trying to fill that gap is a huge problem due to the federal government’s one-size-fits-all concept in setting the poverty level — which does not take into consideration the different regions when determining financial assistance.
That leaves wealthy communities such as Greenwich, along with urban communities such as New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford and Danbury, struggling to provide services with dollar amounts equal to those given to communities in the South or Midwest, where the cost of living is vastly below what it is in the Northeast.
Greenwich is made up of several distinct neighborhoods, including Byram, Cos Cob, Glenville, Mianus, Old Greenwich, Riverside and Greenwich proper.
According to businessinsider.com, Old Greenwich is the 12thwealthiest community in the United States, with an average income in excess of
But poverty is infectious. It is spreading and ZIP codes are meaningless to it.
I learned that on my ride around the wealthiest community in Connecticut, where I felt like a trespasser peeping through the window.
But I was just passing through. The trespasser that has planted its feet is poverty — and somehow, that didn’t feel right amongst the gated mansions and wealth.
Greenwich? All that’s green isn’t lush.