The story of poverty in Pennsylvania is varied. Individuals from all walks of life and all areas of the state struggle to access adequate wages and resources. These individuals simply do not have enough money to meet their basic needs. This occurs because of systemic and individual obstacles. The report’s focus and main source of information were detailed narratives from people struggling with poverty and those helping to address it in various communities. The testimony conveyed critical prime source information that will help policymakers better understand and address what is needed to permanently lift men and women out of poverty.
Lock Haven – STEP Clinton County Community Center – May 23, 2019
Senator Haywood and Senator Vincent Hughes participated in the discussion in Lock Haven.
Leesa moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania in 2014 with her two children, ages one and three. They did not have family here or access to child care. Leesa also faced a pay gap. She was unemployed for 10 years and is now enrolled in the Work Ready Program through Trehab, a Community Action Agency serving several upper-tier counties.
Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Breilun moved to Pennsylvania after he “got the boot” from his mom for doing things she did not approve of. Breilun had a suspended license and expired car registration, and his activities eventually caught up with him. He went to jail twice. When he was not in jail, Breilun was taking care of his siblings. He suffered the loss of his brother due to a collapsed lung.
Judith is a 19-year-old Lycoming County resident who has faced a series of difficult hurdles in her life. Judith was abandoned by her father when she was five-years-old – forcing her mother to work various jobs to make ends meet. As a young person, she was sexually abused by her cousin after he was released from prison. She was also bullied, which led to self-harming behaviors.
Tyran came to Central Susquehanna Opportunities to find help and opportunity. The father to a young son, Tyran wanted to leave the shelter and seek housing elsewhere. He had a hard time sleeping at the shelter and was concerned for his son’s safety. Facing poverty at the age of 23, he entered the EARN Program to find a job and make a better life for his child. He was able to get a temporary job and an apartment.
Tyran began his association with the Employment, Advancement and Retention Network (EARN) program as an outlet to work on improving his life. After observing the plight of other individuals in the program, he encouraged younger participants to follow his example to better their lives through programs such as EARN. Tyran said many people facing poverty end all attempts to improve their situation. Instead they admit defeat. He said SNAP benefits and other assistance programs do not provide substantial monetary payments, and, oftentimes, finding employment is a full-time job. Using himself as an example, Tyran said people can pull themselves out of poverty with faith and hard work.
Tyran is currently working with AmeriCorps but not earning as much as in previous jobs. He said Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have been helpful to him. He said he would stretch SNAP benefits to last a month because it was his only source of income. Tyran does not use SNAP currently, but he does use LIHEAP for help with his energy bills. Living without a car, he walks to destinations due to the complexity of syncing his schedule with that of the bus system.
Kenar’s Story’s Story
Kenar is a 19-year-old man who grew up in a single-parent household with transient housing situations. His dad left when he was born. His mom was nearly killed in a domestic dispute. His mom was able to take the two boys to North Carolina to live with her parents, but Kenar’s grandfather kicked them out after one year. The family moved to another town and lived in a battered women’s shelter for six months. They were finally able to find an apartment where they lived for three years before moving to Charlotte.
Janice has moved through the EARN program several times on her path toward self-sufficiency. She left home at 18 to attend DuBois Business College of Huntington where she majored in Specialized Business. Through a series of events, she lost her apartment and was homeless for a large portion of her final semester of college. At the same time, she found out she was pregnant. She became a single parent with an infant son and had no idea where to go for help. She went to the county assistance office for housing help. They ushered her into the EARN program, which she began eight years ago.
Brittany is the matriarch of a family of five. Her husband is disabled. When they fell on hard times, they went to the county assistance office and found out they qualified for assistance. Brittany entered the EARN program. She volunteered at a local food bank to meet the community service hours requirement under the program. She also took classes that taught skills in resume writing, filling out job applications and interviewing for work.
Philadelphia – Face to Face – May 24, 2019
Senator Haywood, Senator Katie Muth and Senator Hughes hosted the discussion in Philadelphia.
Rose was a registered cardiac nurse for 15 years, an artist and actor. After her father died, Rose suffered a heart attack and required surgery. She lived in Virginia Beach, where the surgery was performed and botched, leaving Rose with an irreparable disability. She is unsure of her life’s expectancy at this point.
Leon has been in recovery for alcohol addiction. He is attending church and living in an alcohol recovery house where he shares a room with another man. However, Leon has dealt with many health-related issues including a diagnosis of diabetes, heart issues, poor circulation and a herniated disc. Recently, he had double hernia surgery that was not done properly and required a blood transfusion after surgery.
Helen has been dealing with housing problems for 18 years following a fire that destroyed her home in 2001. For the next seven years, she spent time in and out of shelters, or floating between friends’ and family’s homes until she had to return to the shelter regularly in 2008.
Ike was just shy of 73 when he spoke to the panel. A retiree, he had previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 13 years and was a former school board member.
Ike echoed the comments of many others in expressing frustration with the lack of available quality housing options. He has been to several senior citizen housing venues where he claims he was “given the run-around,” experiencing long wait times on the phone or never receiving a call back. Despite applying for new senior citizen housing for the past five years, he continues to reside with his daughter. Ike receives some public assistance and retirement benefits but said he does not receive SNAP benefits. He says many vets face similar housing and poverty issues.
Cynthia’s story is similar to many of the stories heard on the Poverty Listening Tour. As with many others struggling in Philadelphia, Cynthia had issues with housing. She rents a house and has an oral agreement rather than a written lease. She has been residing there for one and one-half years.
Steve comes to Face to Face whenever it is open. He credits the organization and his family for keeping him strong and focused through their love and care. Steve has served time in jail and is determined to avoid reincarceration.
Cherri expressed frustration with the county assistance offices. She said she always hands her paperwork directly to someone at the office, but, regardless of these efforts, her paperwork does not get processed. She received a letter from Social Security explaining she was going to lose disability benefits because they had not received her paperwork. She said it is disheartening and difficult, not only because of her diligence in submitting her paperwork, but also because a person must go through recertification every time a benefits renewal is required.
Erie – Urban Erie Community Development Corporation – May 29, 2019
Senator Haywood and Senator Dan Laughlin led the discussion in Erie.
Danielle discussed her efforts to escape poverty. She is a single mother of three and a military veteran who said she was discriminated against while looking for housing and employment.
Jasmine was trained and worked as a medical assistant. Despite her training and employment, she struggled with poverty wages with no benefits.
Cole outlined his struggle with poverty. Due to his father’s heroin addiction, he was raised by his mother. Domestic violence and drug use were commonplace in the household during his childhood. Despite health issues, Cole said he wants to be self-sufficient. He uses Medical Assistance for his health care needs but struggles to find affordable housing. He is both a high school and college graduate. For his work, he runs a book store.
The discussion of how poverty impacts rural communities was at the center of Dave’s story. Dave is associated with the Union City Family Support Center, a program that addresses poverty issues in rural areas of Erie County.
Ntambese is an immigrant from the Congo who came to the United States as a refugee. She said refugees need more help in assimilating to our country. While Ntambese found a work opportunity through the Erie Urban Community Center, the language barrier was a significant obstacle. She said she was discriminated against because of her inability to master English.
Safety and security were top concerns for Amenia. She painfully described her efforts to avoid harm in the community. She said that in her housing development, gunshots were commonplace. Amenia said she tried to help her family deal with poverty but struggled to make much progress.
McKeesport – Penn State Greater Allegheny – May 30, 2019
Senator Haywood and Senator Jim Brewster hosted the McKeesport meeting.
The story of poverty in Pennsylvania is complex. Poverty includes people from all walks of life and occurs for a variety of reasons. The report’s focus and main source of information were detailed narratives from people struggling with poverty and those helping to address it in various communities. The testimony conveyed critical prime source information that will help policymakers better understand and address what is needed to permanently lift men and women out of poverty. Their stories follow.
William said he faced multiple challenges attaining enough money to provide for his basic needs. When seeking help from county offices, he said caseworkers did not seem familiar with all the programs that might have been helpful to him.
Toni focused on education in discussing her plight. She said that more educational opportunities and program information are needed to help people struggling with poverty. She added that better information and opportunities would result in better use of services. Toni voiced concern about students suffering from hunger while attending community college. She argued that not only are jobs critical, but SNAP benefits should not be taken away from 18-year-old students, regardless of circumstances.
A single mother, Rochelle said she relies on the help she receives from family and government support networks. She said that in her journey to self-sufficiency, she has had a lot of help along the way. Rochelle said single moms are at the heart of the poverty issue and the key to overcoming challenges is to break down barriers and work toward economic justice.
Dominque is a small businessman. He said he struggles to make ends meet and uses government programs such as SNAP from time to time. Dominique said SNAP benefits are not enough and that trying to live on food stamps is very difficult. He added that the $112 monthly amount he receives in food stamps leads to unhealthy eating habits. Dominique said county assistance workers do not fully understand programs and are often unable to convey details about how programs can help.
Mental Health Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania – July 16, 2019
Senate Democratic staff conducted the follow-up interviews at the Mental Health Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
There were many facets to Michelle’s struggles with poverty. A former drug user, she often faced homelessness and rehabilitation. In time, she said she was able to acquire poverty-pay jobs at Walmart and as a personal care attendant. Michelle said she was discriminated against in seeking housing and had fears for her personal security.
Devin’s story is punctuated by bouts of homelessness. He was born and raised in New York and was in and out of homeless situations for many years. Devin said he moved to Erie where homeless shelters were more accommodating and provided help.
Robert worked in automobile reupholstering in high school but dropped out his junior year. He then lost his job and faced homelessness. Eventually, Robert was able to find a house, but had to leave Erie to go help his son, who suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his military service.