With 54 percent of Hall County’s population being financially burdened, the United Way of Hall County, with the help of community leaders and residents, has come up with a long-range plan to address the issue of poverty.
In April 2017, more than 250 community leaders joined to discuss the challenges facing Hall County, particularly in relation to poverty. Research continued over the next year, with collaboration from community members, the United Way board and the University of Georgia Fanning Institute.
On Thursday, the United Way presented its community game plan, a data-driven strategy to alleviate poverty in the county.
Joy Griffin, president of the United Way of Hall County, said she knows poverty is a pervasive issue that will not be solved easily.
“Poverty is not a new problem,” Griffin said. “It’s been around for many years, but we know that we’ll need these new solutions.”
The plan has three focuses — education, health and financial stability.
Education prepares people for the workforce and can help someone become more financially secure, but Hall still faces barriers to education that disproportionately affect people living in poverty, according to the plan.
United Way wants to emphasize reading from an early age — 70 percent of students in Hall cannot read proficiently by third grade. Reading levels are a predictor of high school graduation and health outcomes, but family stressors from poverty or other factors such as abuse and bullying can cause students to fall behind in school or fail to graduate on time.
Some solutions include improving access to books for families in low-income housing, funding programs that reduce summer learning loss, educating parents about career planning and connecting students with internships and mentoring.
United Way also plans to work with Gainesville and Hall schools to provide support services to students and families.
Gainesville schools and United Way’s Compass Center have already partnered by having a school social worker coordinating at the Compass Center, which connects families with resources such as health care and financial resources. Griffin said the collaboration has already helped a Gainesville family find a place to live after they had been staying in a hotel. The program provided a rent deposit that allowed the family to find a more stable home.
Someone in poverty has a life expectancy that is 10 to 15 years shorter than someone who is more financially secure, and United Way wants to address that disparity by looking at both mental and physical health.
The plan addresses some of the social factors that may determine someone’s health, such as housing or transportation. Preventing abuse and neglect, and supporting survivors of those crimes, will also help people in poverty, according to the plan.
And food is a key component as well — 28 percent of the Hall County population has limited access to stores that have fresh fruits and vegetables. Making healthy food more affordable and accessible is one goal of the plan, and United Way wants to reach out to neighborhoods in food deserts to leverage resources and collaborate.
Hall County also has a shortage of mental health providers that United Way wants to address. The population-to-mental-health-provider ratio in Hall is 1,350:1, compared to 330:1 for top U.S. performers. The plan calls for educating the community about existing mental health resources, as well as funding programs that improve access to mental health services and raise awareness of the issue.
Many in Hall cannot afford to pay rent and buy basic necessities like food — 40 percent of the population struggles to meet basic needs.
United Way wants to help people in Hall with those expenses by improving infrastructure and funding programs that can keep families afloat during difficult times. Financial literacy programs, job training, workforce development and advocating against predatory loans are some of the ideas presented in the plan.
About 43 percent of Hall households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, making them rent-cost-burdened. But if someone is making minimum wage, even if they are working full time, affordable rent would only be $377 a month. United Way wants to fund transitional housing, advocate for public-private partnerships and engage with landlords to find solutions. Affordable housing listings would also help people find a place to live when they need one.
Transportation is also essential, according to the plan. About 3,300 people in Hall County do not have a vehicle, and lack of transportation can be a barrier to employment. United Way plans to advocate for commuter bus services, seek public-private partnerships to expand transit, and educate about the benefits of public transit.
Poverty in Hall County
Extremely poor: 18.3 percent
$0 to $25,000 annually for a family of four
Very poor or low-income: 21.8 percent
$25,001 to $45,000 annually for a family of four
Financially burdened: 14.3 percent
$45,001 to $60,000 annually for a family of four
Self-sufficient: 45.6 percent
$60,000 or more annually for a family of four