The holiday wish list of America’s poorest families is long, as those living below the federal poverty line increasingly sought help at Catholic Charities agencies, which served one of every 10 people living in poverty in 2006, according to a report by Catholic Charities agencies released today on Capitol Hill.
The report, Poverty in America: Beyond the Numbers, provides a state-by-state look at the types of services local Catholic Charities agencies provide to address the pervasive issue of poverty in this country. The report is based on the findings of Catholic Charities USA’s 2006 Annual Member Survey.
More than 1,700 local Catholic Charities agencies and institutions served nearly 8 million people of all faiths in 2006, including 4.1 million living below the poverty line. Catholic Charities agencies are serving a rising percentage of people who live below the federal poverty line, which in 2006 was $20,000 for a family of four. The report found that 52 percent of Catholic Charities clients in 2006 were from below the federal poverty line—up from 43 percent in 2002.
As millions of Americans look ahead to Thanksgiving, the survey of local agencies shows that there are a growing number of people are turning to Catholic Charities for food. In fact, local Catholic Charities agencies saw a 12 percent increase in the need for food service programs in 2006. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of clients receiving food services—such as soup kitchens, food banks and food pantries, home delivered meals and congregate dining—increased by 2.7 million, or nearly 60 percent.
As the need for food assistance continues to rise, local agencies say they continue to struggle to meet the needs of food service requests. In 2006, agencies responding to the survey said they were unable to serve nearly 1,800 clients requesting prepared food and nearly 91,000 clients requesting distributed food.
“The holiday season should be a time of joy and celebration, but instead it is often difficult for the hungry, the homeless and the working poor who are often burdened with high utility costs and unexpected medical bills that can demolish their tight budgets,” said Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. “This information from our agencies shows that every season should be a season of giving because the need is still there and it is continuing to grow.”
Other key findings of the survey of local agencies of 2006 services include:
More than 45 percent of Catholic Charities’ clients were either under 18 or over 65.
Services to build strong communities—ranging from education and enrichment to social support and health-related services to neighborhood activism—reached 7 percent more people in 2006, for a total of more than 3.6 million.
Nearly 1.1 million people received services that strengthen families, including counseling and mental health services and immigration services.
Catholic Charities managed more than 176 temporary shelters (nearly 7,800 beds). Yet they were unable to serve more than 31,000 people because all available beds were full.
“Catholic Charities agencies across the country are working hard to create hope in the hearts of the needy this holiday season. We are helping millions of people deal with everyday disasters such as hunger, homelessness and financial need,” said Janet Valente Pape, chair of the Catholic Charities USA Board of Trustees and executive director of Catholic Charities of Wichita. “We need people to join our efforts in providing help to those in need by volunteering at a local agency or donating to Catholic Charities. The more help we have, the more we can help men, women and children in need this holiday season.”
Catholic Charities Seeks Change through Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America
The report illustrates how Catholic Charities agencies are working to address the pervasive issue of poverty in this country.
“We understand the consequences of poverty first-hand, and also know the solutions for helping individuals get on a path to self-sufficiency,” Father Snyder said. “That’s why we launched our Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America earlier this year.”
The campaign’s goal is to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half by 2020, and Catholic Charities USA and local agencies are joining together to urge policymakers to give the needs of the poor a higher priority in budget and policy decisions in four key areas: housing, hunger, nutrition assistance and economic security.
“At Catholic Charities, we understand the causes, scope and ramifications of poverty,” Father Snyder said. “While certain choices and behaviors can lead individuals into poverty, far more often the greater fault lies with the social and economic structures that shape the opportunities for the poor.”
“The Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America is critical for a long-term solution,” Father Snyder said. “Only through partnerships between government and community leaders, will we develop the capacity and the scale necessary to attack poverty in a comprehensive and sustainable way. With the help of people across the country, as volunteers, as contributors or as supporters of this campaign, we can make a real difference in the lives of so many of the most vulnerable among us.”
Local Agencies Provide Help and Offer Hope to Those in Need throughout the Country
As Catholic Charities agencies across the nation are experiencing an increase in need, they are stepping up to meet the challenge.
Filling Dental Needs – Catholic Charities Maine has been working to meet the dental needs of low-income families and individuals who often cannot find a dentist without a long waiting list or even one who will accept their form of insurance. Catholic Charities Maine opened the Jessie Albert Memorial Dental Center in Bath, Maine where the licensed dentist and hygienists served more than 5,600 children and young people in 2006. Available treatments range from filing cavities to performing root canals and treating early gum disease.
Dining/Food Services – At St. Vincent’s Center in Reno, Catholic Community Services of Northern Nevada operate both a food pantry and a dining room. The food pantry provides supplemental food for an average of 14,000 people a month, nearly 4 percent the local county population. St. Vincent’s dining hall welcomes individuals for breakfast every day, as it has done for more than 40 years. When the center’s new dining facility opened in 2006, the average number of people served per day rose to 333, an increase of 17 percent over the previous six months.
Job Skills Training – For the past 10 years, Catholic Community Services has operated the McDowell Family Literacy Program. McDowell is the poorest county in West Virginia: The median family income is under $20,500, and over 49 percent of the children live in poverty. The program has helped more than 2,000 low-income people through its comprehensive services including job skills training, basic literacy instruction, and classes in parenting, nutrition, money management and survival skills. Also, the program provides early child intervention, pre-school and after school programs. A key goal of this family program is to improve self-image and encourage self-esteem. This is done by getting people involved in helping themselves and others. The Center creates a supportive and caring environment that encourages families to work toward their goals and end poverty in their lives.
Easing Chronic Homelessness – The St. Paul Residence is the newest program of Catholic Charities of St. Paul-Minneapolis to help address chronic homelessness. A collaborative effort with the city of St. Paul and the state of Minnesota, this new residence will provide single-room housing for 60 chronically homeless men. Also located in the new building is the Catholic Charities’ St. Anthony Residence program, which provides permanent housing for 60 chronic alcoholics. Residents will receive independent living skills training, medication monitoring and employment services.
The report, Poverty in America: Beyond the Numbers, can be found at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.