As the number of Orange County families and children living in poverty continues to grow, officials with the Health Department are looking to other communities for strategies to help those in need.
The number of people living in poverty grew more in North Carolina than anywhere else in the nation, according to US Census Data. The state saw a 17.9 percent increase in its poverty rate between 2006 and 2010.
Despite the perception that Orange County is an affluent area, Meredith Stewart, planning manager for the Board of Health, says more and more local families are struggling too.
“About one in three of our kids in Orange County schools, so that’s both districts, are on free- or reduced-lunch,” Stewart says. “About one in four of our kids in Orange County are on Medicaid. We do have families struggling to get by, as evidence by those numbers.”
The area’s high cost of living is also a challenge for families. In Orange County, a household would need the income from 2.2 full-time minimum wage jobs to be able to afford the median rent on a two-bedroom apartment.
Stewart says officials are just beginning to plan how to tackle the multi-faceted problem of poverty.
“I think a conversation is beginning around the issues that are happening in Orange County and how we can address them from many different angles,” Stewart says. “So, this isn’t something that one person or one group can work on, we all have to come together to think about and talk about our families and issues like housing, food, education, and childcare. All of these issues go together.”
As part of that conversation, local leaders are looking to other communities that have launched successful intervention programs.
“We’ll have the privilege of having Dr. Betina Jean-Louis from the Harlem Children’s Zone, who will be joining us this Friday starting at 8:00 a.m. at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill, to talk about the Harlem Children’s Zone and the work that they have done to improve the pipeline, as they call it, from cradle to career or college for children and how that was really a community effort that started with a community conversation that we’re starting to have here in Orange County.”
Stewart and others hope that programs such as The Harlem Children’s Zone and the East Durham Children’s Initiative could provide a model for lowering child poverty rates in Orange County.
Friday’s meeting is open to the public.
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