The United Way of Charlotte County focuses our mission on poverty, more specifically on leading the united effort to eliminate poverty by investing in our community. But what does that mean? And why is poverty such an important issue when we live in paradise?
Poverty takes many forms and in most cases results in a loss of self-esteem, identity, privilege, and power. When we talk about poverty, we’re really talking about an absence of more than just money, we’re talking about an absence of support for children from birth to kindergarten, we’re talking about families and individuals not able to maintain independence and financial stability in their homes and lives, and we’re talking about communities unable to find the resources to strengthen well-being and the neighborhoods in which we live.
For the 64,000 people in Charlotte County that are walking a financial tightrope, unable to make ends meet each and every month, it means so much more than not having enough money. It means devoting more time to just surviving; it can mean forgetting what hope is, living in fear of what might happen today or the next.
A recently commissioned report by the United Way of Florida called the A.L.I.C.E. Report details the true reality of our community. While 12% of our residents are living in government defined poverty, 28% are unable to pay all their bills each month. This means that 40% of Charlotte County citizens are living in financial hardship. ALICE households are working households; they hold jobs, pay taxes, and provide services that are vital to the Florida economy in a variety of positions such as retail salespeople, customer service representatives, laborers and movers, and health care aides.
The core issue is that these jobs do not pay enough to afford the basics of housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation. Moreover, the growth of low-skilled jobs is projected to outpace that of medium- and high-skilled jobs into the next decade. At the same time, the cost of basic household necessities continues to rise. There are serious consequences for both ALICE households and their communities when these households cannot afford the basic necessities. ALICE households are forced to make difficult choices such as skipping preventative health care, accredited child care, healthy food, or car insurance. These “savings” threaten their health, safety, and future – and they reduce Florida’s economic productivity and raise insurance premiums and taxes for everyone. The costs are high for both ALICE families and the wider community.
Addressing poverty is not something that one organization or order of government can take on alone – it takes a truly collaborative effort.
At no time in the 50-year history of United Way of Charlotte County has the alignment been stronger to take a bold approach in addressing a problem as profound and pervasive as poverty.
United Way participated in the Comprehensive Community Needs Assessment, helping identify pressing human needs in Charlotte County.
The Gulf Coast Partnership is making strides with the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. The effort to eliminate homelessness among veterans is on track to hit “functional zero” within a year.
Our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (V.I.T.A.) program provides free tax preparation for those who need it most. Last year the program generated over $150,000 in returns, which is money that is spent locally to boost our economy right here at home.
Combined with the work United Way does directly with the many community and corporate supporters in the county, great strides are being made to meet the overwhelming desire to move forward with a bold vision and plan for our community which will provide decision-making tools to address social challenges and a foundation for evaluating progress in the community.
Through these collective efforts, and more, we are ready to take on the challenge of eliminating poverty in Charlotte County. For more information on our work, or on the ALICE study, click this link.