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Archive for Sunday, January 21, 2001

RE WORKING, POORER –- PANEL DISCUSSES POVERTY IN DOUGLAS COUNTY

January 21, 2001

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But that doesn't mean they're not poor.

Many, in fact, are poorer.

"There's no way you can raise three kids, making $6.50 to $7 an hour. There just isn't," said Tracy Bedell, a caseworker for Full Citizenship, a group that helps people -- mothers with small children, mostly -- make the transition from being on welfare to staying off it.

Since federal welfare reform began in October 1996, the number of families receiving cash assistance has dropped almost 50 percent.

Bedell offered her analysis after listening to eight Lawrence women talk about what it's like to be poor in Douglas County during a panel discussion Saturday at First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive. The discussion was sponsored by the Mother to Mother program.

Points made by the panelists included:

l In Kansas, the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services offers little or no assistance to parents wanting to go back to school in hopes of landing better-paying jobs.

l SRS' help with finding and paying for child care for job-hunting or working parents is hard to get, harder to hold on to.

l SRS workers are often snippy rather than helpful.

l If a family is truly destitute, SRS will help. But SRS doesn't do much to keep a family from becoming desperate.

l In Lawrence, there's nothing unusual about a single mother paying $500 a month for a rat- and roach-infested apartment in need of major repairs. Calls to the landlord go unanswered.

One of the women, a 21-year-old mother of three, told of waking up to find a cockroach in her 2-month-old baby's nose.

l Being poor is neither easy nor carefree.

"I know there are people out there who think we're lazy, but we're not," said Deniece Reed, a member of the panel. "I know I'm not lazy."

Arthurine Criswell, director of the SRS office in Lawrence, was stung by many of the comments. She was in the audience, unannounced.

"I appreciated everything I heard today," she said afterward. "This just reinforces my belief that we at SRS need to do a much better job when it comes to marketing our products."

Many of the women's comments, Criswell said, were "engulfed in misunderstanding" about what services SRS can and cannot offer.

Criswell said she, too, is disgusted by the conditions in some of the low-income housing in Lawrence.

Sister Barbara Wieseler, director of the Mother to Mother program, said she hopes to organize other forums, allowing the poor to speak for themselves.

"All of us can learn from their experiences," she said.

-- Staff writer Dave Ranney can be reached at 832-7222.

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