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A 'snapshot' of poverty in Red Wing

Waiting lists. Paperwork. A shortage of program funding.

Those are just some of many obstacles that face low-income families as they try to seek assistance, even in a place with many organizations that aim to provide resources, panelists at a Red Wing forum said Thursday evening.

“We know Red Wing is a community that steps up to the plate,” Red Wing League of Women Voters co-president Colleen Clark said as she kicked off the public forum on poverty. But still, people face these issues and gaps remain, she said.

Panelists at the event spoke about the faces of poverty in education, employment, food, housing, health, seniors, women and youths.

“It’s a snapshot of what’s going on,” Clark said. “It’s just the beginning of the conversation.”

They said many people in the community work to combat the issue of poverty and help those in need, but it is a growing problem that sometimes goes unnoticed by others.

Patti Roberts, Sunnyside Elementary principal, said last year nearly 50 percent of the school’s students qualified for free or reduced lunches, a program for low-income families.

“We’re trying to do what we can to level the playing field, but it isn’t easy,” Roberts said. She listed evidence of poverty in students from not having proper winter clothing to being unable to afford materials and field trips to transportation and communication problems with parents.

“What the ultimate result is … it impacts their education,” Roberts said. And that impact can stick with them throughout their lives.

“The things that happen in early childhood are not isolated,” said Alexandra Fitzsimmons, legislative affairs and advocacy director for Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund.

While other panelists also talked about poverty in specific sectors of the community, they noted it is all connected.

“It’s all part of a bigger system,” Kris Kvols of the HOPE Coalition said. “Poverty isn’t something you segment into little categories.”

Many of the local organizations work together, but still can be restricted by funding parameters, limited resources or other challenges, they said.

Still, they try to do what they can and point those in need to helpful programs and organizations. For example, the CARE Clinic tries to connect each visitor with other services they might need and qualify for, said Julie Malyon, clinical director.

The forum, co-sponsored by the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties and the Red Wing League of Women Voters, was aimed at showing the public that despite some perceptions, poverty is an issue in the area. Its goal also was to discuss more ways to combat poverty and help those who are struggling, organizers said.

“This is just the seed tonight,” said United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties director Maureen Nelson. She encouraged the attendees to go out and “dispel the myths about poverty” and see what else can be done to close the gaps.

There are many people and families who are working but still struggling, or make more than the official definition of poverty but are facing financial issues, many panelists noted.

Malyon said the CARE Clinic sees many patients who make too much to qualify for health care subsidies but not enough to get insurance or pay out of pocket for services. About 60 to 70 percent of the patients are employed or are children, she said.

Even where resources are available, there can be a limited number of spots.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority has a waiting list of about 300 families for the Section 8 housing program, said panelist Judy Kliewer. Kvols said the Haven of Hope shelter is often full, as are other similar shelters throughout the state.

Robin Wipperling, Red Wing Area Seniors program director, said it also can be hard for people, especially seniors, to admit they need help.

“It’s difficult to say ‘I can’t afford this, I can’t provide this for myself,’” she said.

While poverty can be impacted by how people grew up, it also can be spurred by losing a job, dealing with expensive health issues or other unexpected situations, panelists noted.

“A lot of us walk a thin line between where we are and where we could be if one piece of our safety net falls out,” Kvols said.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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