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Community leaders, residents voice concerns about poverty

DANVILLE – Affordable housing, the value of skill versus degree for jobs, social and health safety nets and prompt payments by the state to social-service agencies were some of the topics brought before a public hearing Monday with the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty.

Monday's hearing was meant to gather views from central Illinois residents. Hearings are also scheduled in Chicago on March 8 and Carbondale on April 8.

Eight members of the commission listened to the concerns of those who assist people living in poverty.

Fred Whitman of the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency said affordable, quality housing was of the utmost importance.

"Not multi-family complexes but individual homes that allow for diversity. Some people will never be able to afford to own their own home," he said. "Single-family houses in a neighborhood give people a chance to develop pride and feel a part of the community."

Pastor Fred Cowan of the New Hope Church of God in Christ in Danville said desperate times bring on desperate needs.

"At my church, I see more and more working people who can't pay their bills, have no benefits," he said. "It's time to stop worrying about the (political) parties and start worrying about the people."

Lane Baldwin moved to the area after Hurricane Katrina with virtually nothing and said that 18 months later he is working on two start-up businesses, playing with his band and has established a charity, Danville Foodstock.

"Our social programs are broken, partially by a combination of waste and those people gaming the system," he said. "When people need a job, when they need health benefits, there's no safety net. We have college graduates with no jobs, but massive debt.

"We need to give people immediate job assistance when they don't have one. Give them skill testing, help with training, if that doesn't work, give them a broom," he said. "Having something to do gives dignity."

Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services, said he continues to be concerned about the state budget and the lack of prompt payment to agencies that serve the people who are mostly likely to be at or below the poverty level.

"The dilemma is a matter of economics and spirit with poverty," he said. "This community works hard to try to take care of its own, but the idea of 'pull yourself up by your own bootstraps' doesn't work for everyone. How are you going to get help when there's no transportation to where the help is? How can you live if you get $660 per month on SSI and your rent alone is more than half of that?"

Steve Rice of northern Vermilion County came because he was thinking of a single parent raising three children who tried endlessly to get a job and finally got one at Wal-Mart, but before she had enough time in to obtain health benefits, had to have surgery and couldn't work.

"There has to be some safety net for health coverage for those working before insurance kicks in," he said with great emotion. "I thought about this all day and I came down here just so I could tell you."

The commission will continue taking written comment, opinions and suggestions how the commission can meet its goal of creating and monitoring a strategic plan for cutting extreme poverty in the state of Illinois by the end of 2015. The plan is due Aug. 15.

Send opinions to Doug Schenkelberg via e-mail at or mail them to his attention at Heartland Alliance, 33 W. Grand Ave., Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60654.

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