By David Gordon, associate editor
Action plans to deal with nine different aspects of poverty will be discussed Thursday evening as the Eau Claire County Poverty Summit wraps up the first phase of a project that will continue for another 21 months.
The project, put together under the auspices of Clear Vision Eau Claire and launched officially last October, is intended to look at issues of poverty and income inequality throughout the county. Some 255 people have attended one or more of the six sessions that have taken place so far, according to Nancy Yule, the Summit’s project coordinator
Thursday’s session is open to the public, including people who have not yet participated. The meeting will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Grace Lutheran Church, 202 W. Grand Ave. in Eau Claire, and doors will open at 6 p.m.
Poverty Summit action teams are working to define specific concerns and develop action plans in each of the nine poverty-related areas that were identified in the project’s early meetings. Yule said in an interview with the Chippewa Valley Post that about 160 people are involved on the nine action teams, which range in size from 10 or 11 up to 23 members.
She noted that Clear Vision’s original hope was to have 150 people involved on six action teams, but the discussions at meetings last fall produced additional topics that merited attention. These are all broad problem areas that relate to the overall topic of poverty and how best to deal with it, she said.
“What we’re trying to do is to make a difference in the community” as a whole, Yule said, rather than just helping a few people here and there solve their problems.
One of the action teams is dealing with housing, which was also the focus of the recent “One Book, One Community” series of programs that discussed the impact of eviction and homelessness on the Chippewa Valley. Those programs were based on community reading of Evicted: Power and Profit in the American City, a book by UW-Madison alumnus Matthew Desmond which documents the increasingly frequent experience of housing instability for poor, renting families. (A retrospective view of those programs is available by clicking here.)
Yule said she was glad to see the timing of those programs but added that there was no formal connection between them and the Poverty Summit.
Other Poverty Summit Topics
Other action team topics range from such aspects of poverty as its effects children and education to food insecurity, health care, income and job skills, and the re-entry into society of people released from prisons. There is also an action team focused on “public narrative and stigma,” and Yule said that “’stigma’ seems to be part of all of the issues.”
Yule said she knows of no other programs in the country that are following the Poverty Summit format. She added that Clear Vision hopes to document the entire approach so other communities can use this template to deal with issues that face them.
Clear Vision will support the work of the action teams through December of 2018, as they work to implement the action plans developed in this phase of the project.
“Throughout the Summit process, it is important to continue asking what can change in our communities to help people get out of poverty, or keep from falling into poverty,” Yule said.
Poverty Summit Origins
She said that the Poverty Summit traces its origins to a series of 2014 meetings convened by Clear Vision to identify its next major project. Poverty and income insecurity were the issues that ran through all of those meetings, she said.
Various aspects of poverty – including living wage jobs, underemployment and long-term impacts of poverty on children – were noted as major issues in Eau Claire’s 2015 city comprehensive plan. “Poverty and income insecurity have also been identified as significant community challenges” in the last several years by the Eau Claire Area School District, Eau Claire County, the City-County Health Department and United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley, according to a Clear Vision background document.
That document notes that the county’s per capita poverty rate increased from 12.9% in 1980 to 14.5% in 2015 and that one in five under-18 children in the county are food insecure. Based on 2014 federal poverty guidelines, 15% of county residents are considered to be “poor” (below 100% of the guidelines) and 29% of county residents are considered “working poor” (below 185% of the guidelines.
Yule added that another factor in directing local attention to poverty issues was Pope Francis’ Encyclical dealing with poverty on the global level.
She said that a conscious effort was made to involve people living in poverty in the Summit processes, including offering transportation to meetings and making child care available during them. No one took up the transportation offer but some people did make use of the child care, Yule said.
Some poverty-level people have become involved in the discussions, she noted, but no specific numbers are available.
Yule said that anyone interested in joining one of the action teams, or with questions about the Summit, can email her at email@example.com.
More information about the Poverty Summit is available at www.clearvisioneauclaire.org. Clear Vision Eau Claire was founded in 2007 and is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.