Sep 182007
 
Authors: Jessi Stafford

In an effort to considerably reduce the number of people living below or near the poverty level in Colorado, the Paycheck Away Project was created to tour the state and speak with key community members, service providers, experts and advocates.

The project made its way to Fort Collins Tuesday evening and hosted a six-member panel, alongside more than 50 locals, to discuss poverty and, more importantly, the possible solutions to the growing problem.

“We must continue the conversations and get beyond the conversations,” said State Rep. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins), who was the moderator for the panel discussion.

As part of the discussions, panel members explained their role in aiding the move to end poverty in the community and what they think needs to change nationwide, as well as locally, in order to accomplish the lofty goals. And the changes are by no means meager.

“I think if any of us had the answer we would have done it already,” said panel member Dr. Doug Whitman of Salud Family Health Centers. “A lot of what we do is getting to be a bigger and bigger Band-Aid.”

In Colorado, more than 500,000 people live in poverty, more than 11 percent, according to the Colorado Anti-hunger Network. And of that number, 14.2 percent are 18 years old or younger.

Though many panel members offered various reasons as to why Coloradans see such high numbers, one concept that was generally agreed on was the fact that current health care policies are lacking and, therefore, leaving some people in the dust.

“Everyone in this room is one illness away, one business decision away. from poverty,” said panel member Averil Strand, who is the director of communication of Health Services for Larimer County.

The country’s major cause of bankruptcy is the cost of health care, Strand said.

“If we don’t come to grips with this. we are in an absolute crisis in health care in this nation,” she said. “We need a national solution.”

Each panel member told of their organization’s available resources and on-going projects focused on alleviating hunger and poverty. The Food Bank for Larimer County gave $9 million worth of food to the community last year, Salud provides medical services for low income families, and Neighbor to Neighbor has a first month’s rent program, to name a few resources available.

Yet, some community members who have a lack of funds coming in still find it difficult to stay afloat.

“I am poor.we do everything we can, but we still continuously fall through the cracks,” local Colleen Ziegler said. “Why?”

Ziegler has a severe illness that does not allow her to keep a steady job. She has four children, all of whom have excelled in school, and has used food stamps to feed her family for years.

Yet, she finds it increasingly difficult to re-apply for food stamps and to acquire health coverage for herself as well as her children, she said.

“What could I have done differently? Who else could I have talked to?” Ziegler said.

These questions the panel members could hardly answer and they agreed with Ziegler that this is precisely the problem with health care in the United States.

“When we go to the grocery store, no matter our economic status, we all pay the same amount for a gallon of milk,” said panel member Amy Pezzani, executive director of Food Bank for Larimer County.

Hunger, however, is just one symptom of poverty, she said.

Colorado and its lawmakers have a complex task at hand, but Kefalas said he doesn’t want people to lose hope or sight of the goal.

“All is not lost,” he said. “There are some positive trends, especially in Colorado. There are some good things.”

Associate news managing editor Jessi Stafford can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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