Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dallas is not Alone...Memphis, Tennessee's 'Sea of Poverty'

Hope you've had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to a very Happy New Year.

I'm just returning from what has really been a first Christmas vacation - an actual vacation away from home!

I spent Christmas in Southaven, Mississippi with family from there and Memphis, Tennessee and it was great to see everyone. This is a portion of our family we usually don't get to see unless they come here so spending Christmas with them was really special in a number of ways. And, of course, its always good to get away for some R & R!

Of course there were reminders of the work that awaits the end of vacation (which isn't quite over yet!)...

One of my favorite things any time I'm out of town is to read the newspapers in whatever city I'm in. I don't always pour over them carefully, but I pick out articles, editorials and sports to see how life is going in that city. Usually what I find out is that challenges are generally the same there as they are here in Dallas.

For instance, it's probably not a great surprise that Memphis has a problem with poverty...

"Next month, Memphis Mayor AC Wharton is expected to announce a major initiative to deal with poverty. Although no details have been released, Lipscomb said the plan will be a comprehensive effort to lift people out of what he calls the "sea of poverty" engulfing much of the city."
"The problem of concentrated poverty certainly isn't unique to Memphis, but it's much more prevalent here."
"A Census Bureau report this month found that more than 1 in 5 Americans lives in "poverty areas" -- defined as Census tracts with poverty rates of at least 20 percent. That level of poverty, according to some studies, represents the "tipping point" at which neighborhoods can start descending into a downward spiral that is difficult to reverse."
"Because the eight-county Memphis metropolitan area has a poverty rate of 19.1 percent -- highest among the nation's 51 metro areas with at least 1 million people -- it's hardly surprising that the area has large pockets of concentrated poverty."
"An analysis of Census data by The Commercial Appeal found that in Shelby County, more than 366,000 residents -- or about 2 in 5 people countywide -- live in tracts in which the poverty rate is at least 20 percent."
"More than 230,000 people, or one-fourth of Shelby's population, live in tracts having at least a 30 percent poverty rate. And 100,360 residents are in tracts in which the poverty rate is 40 percent or higher."
"In addition to Census Tract 53  [the...blighted area between Kansas Street and McKellar Lake, south of South Parkway, that is home to some of the most concentrated poverty in all of Memphis], there are three inner-city tracts where the poverty rates range from 61 to 75 percent. But they aren't as large as Tract 53, where more than half the 1,506 households have incomes less than $15,000, according to Census estimates."
The point? Dallas has areas - more than pockets - of poverty which are begging for comprehensive solutions, solutions which are frankly not forthcoming. I served as pastor in one of those census tracts (39.02) for more than two decades. And while there are redevelopment efforts going on to address poverty in that area much more needs to be done and it needs to be a major focus of local government. I'll be awaiting Memphis' Mayor Wharton's plan to see if how comprehensive it actually is and if it includes solutions we already know work: permanent supportive housing, job training, innovative, focused education strategies and infrastructure improvements which bring employment to residents of these communities and incentives for economic development. 
And in the meantime, we'll keep working in Dallas to make sure that they are solutions that are employ and expand here.

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