In January through northeastern counties like Halifax, Beaufort and Pasquotank, there were heartrending stories of no jobs; high utility bills; government cuts to vital social programs; and the steady decline of crumbling neighborhoods.
In March, traveling through southeastern counties like Brunswick, New Hanover and Robeson, impoverished citizens spoke of living amidst contaminated soil; a lack of decent housing; and an increasingly aging rural population in need of vital services.
And so on Monday and Tuesday of this week, it was no surprise to hear much of the same as the third leg of the NC NAACP’s Truth and Hope Poverty Tour continued on through the Western North Carolina counties of Guilford, Rockingham, Surry and Rowan on Monday. Then Catawba, Henderson and Mecklenburg on Tuesday.
And yet, while there was the continuing narrative of lack of jobs due to industries shutting down and moving out, there were also new challenges revealed by the struggling poor, this time in urban inner cities, not only by African-Americans, but significantly by more Latinos, and whites as well.
Stories by former members of the US military, now homeless, being denied services and housing. One young man sleeping in a sewer line. Once gainfully employed professionals, suddenly terminated and finding that the marketplace not only doesn’t need them anymore, but puts roadblocks up to prevent their return to the workforce.
People losing their homes and their health insurance, finding themselves without permanent shelter and adequate healthcare.
People living out in the woods of Catawba County, bringing Truth and Hope Poverty Tour leader Rev. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, to tears when he saw the blankets on the ground, clothing hanging from branches, and rationed food being stowed away from the elements.
There were visits to homeless shelters in Guilford County, and town hall meetings in churches in Rowan, Henderson and Mecklenburg counties where attendees were encouraged by the audience to ”Tell the story” of struggle, and hope.
In all of these counties, just as on the northeastern and southeastern legs, the poverty rate is at lest 20 percent, if not significantly more, among the African-American and Hispanic populations. Many are desperately dependent on social services, but are running into persistent roadblocks when it comes to qualifying, let alone accessing those services.
At Union Grove Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Green Meadows residents shared the frightening March 8th story of how police, chasing a suspected unarmed robber, fired more than fifty shots through that black neighborhood where the church is, sending bullets through people’s homes. Much of that artillery ended up peppering one side of the church for a number of yards. The suspect was wounded and charged. Residents, angry that the police felt free to shoot up their neighborhood because it is poor, are now starting an NAACP chapter.
In Mecklenburg County at Little Rock AME Zion Church, there were those who identified themselves as the ”working poor,” families who are overcome by ever-rising costs, with no end in sight, to maintain a decent standard of living.
In the predominately black town of East Spencer in Rowan County, the water bills are very high, abandoned property litters the area, and the closest supermarket is five miles away in the predominately white town of Spencer.
Considering that the corporate headquarters of the Food Lion grocery chain is in nearby Salisbury, East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett says the town’s 1500 residents are being deprived of both basic services and opportunities.
And there were those in Mecklenburg County who were subject to being sued by major hospitals there, which placed liens on their homes, just because they’re not able to pay their hospital bills.
Joined by the tour’s co-sponsors – the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity; the NC Justice Center; AARP of North Carolina and the NCCU Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change, NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber says the next step is a statewide summit that allows representatives of government, business, and the church, as well as those who are in poverty, to sit down and strategize how the state can tackle what is proving to be a multi-faceted problem, that may require a likewise solution.
”No region of our state is free from the dehumanizing realities of poverty,”
Rev. Barber said in a statement. ””North Carolina must turn her eyes towards the plight of the least of these, to the living conditions of its marginalized people, black, white and brown, young and old, and realize that we cannot continue to ignore them if we intend to fulfill our constitutional and moral obligations.”