Poverty in Context

Amherst Area Count Amherst Percent State (MA) Percent National Percent
Individuals Living Below 100% of the Poverty Level 6,222 29.1% 11.0% 15.9%
Families Living Below 100% Poverty Level 461 10.5% 7.7% 11.8%
Single Female Households w/ children under 18 Living Below 100% of Poverty Level 378 40.8% 33.8% 30.9%
Children in Families Living Below 100% Poverty Level 582 17.0% 13.9% 21.3%

 2012 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau)

 

Amherst Poverty: FAQ’s

There’s poverty in Amherst?

Area residents are often surprised to learn that many of our neighbors are living in poverty. The schools aren’t surprised, they know how many students qualify for Free/Reduced Lunch. This year, it was a full 50% of Amherst kindergarten students.

What is the poverty line? What does it mean to live below 100% of it?

The 2013 national poverty line for a family of four is $23,550. 10.5% of Amherst families and 40.8% of Amherst single female households with children live below that income level. Most FOA clients live on an income of less than $10,000 a year.

Looking beyond the statistics, imagine supporting a family on that income. How would you pay for housing, food, transportation, child care, and medical costs?

Now imagine also dealing with trauma, homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, and/or serious health or mental health issues. All of FOA’s clients deal with some sort of trauma in addition to serious poverty.

Poverty and Children: Risks and Effects

The effects of poverty on children are severe, especially for young children and/or children who grow up in chronic poverty. Many studies have revealed poverty’s effect on a child’s ability to learn and on his/her physical and mental health. Children who grow up in poverty are at an increased risk for social, emotional, and behavioral problems; substance abuse; delinquency; and adult poverty. Add in the trauma of experiencing family violence, homelessness, racism, or other crisis factors, the impact of poverty becomes more intense.

Statistics and information gathered from the 2012 American Community Survey (U.S. Census), the National Center for Children in Poverty, Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools, and FOA’s client records.

Many families who live below the poverty line and may be a paycheck away from an eviction notice or an inability to buy groceries for the week are essentially healthy families trying to raise healthy kids. There are also families who struggle every day to retain their housing and have serious problems with substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental or physical health issues. FOA works with both kinds of families. We help an otherwise stable family deal with a sudden crisis, and we assist families who have been affected by trauma and generational poverty work to create a better life for their children. Our safety net looks different to each family.

Here are a few examples of how we work with families who have significant issues*

One:

Maria brought her four-year-old son, Jose, to their pediatrician with an earache. During the examination, the doctor noticed Maria was very agitated and asked Maria if something was troubling her. Maria burst into tears. That morning she had received an eviction notice and a call from her older son, Jorge’s school about him fighting on the playground. The physician recognized that without some intervention, Maria’s problems would worsen, as would the health of her child. The doctor called Family Outreach of Amherst.

When the doctor referred Maria to Family Outreach, she mentioned the eviction and Jorge’s troubles. During the intake with the FOA caseworker, Maria identified other problems: an abusive boyfriend, a seriously ill mother, and mental health issues related to childhood abuse she had suffered. Together, Maria and the caseworker identified services that would help Maria’s family. The caseworker made referrals to a support group for Latina women experiencing domestic violence, a Hospice Worker to help Maria with her mother, and a therapist to work with Maria on her trauma-related depression. The FOA caseworker went to court with Maria and helped work out a payment plan with her landlord for back rent Maria owed. The caseworker also accompanied Maria to meetings with Jorge’s teachers and helped Maria talk with the school about services Jorge needed. The caseworker helped Maria obtain a mentor and after-school homework help for Jorge.

With support that Family Outreach of Amherst provided, Maria’s life became safer and more manageable and her children received services to become healthier, happier people. This was good news for Maria and the larger Amherst community. As Maria’s family stabilized, they needed fewer support services and Maria was able to contribute more to her community. Nine months after Maria started working with the FOA caseworker, she joined the WREN group, (Women’s Empowerment Network) a program of Family Outreach. This group of low-income single mothers worked on issues that affected their families, such as housing and parenting. WREN offered a forum for isolated, low-income mothers to make changes in the community and to positively impact the lives of other struggling mothers.

Two:

Rachel became a foster child when she was ten and bounced from one foster home to another until moving to Amherst when she was fifteen. After being raped by the son of her last foster family, she lived in a state residential home until she turned eighteen. With no family or friends to help her, she chose to marry an abusive boyfriend. The abuse continued for the two years she was married. After being severely beaten and waking up in the hospital, she finally pressed charges. Her husband was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempted murder. Rachel was twenty years old.

Soon after Rachel was released from the hospital she met Mark. At first he was kind to her, but after their first child was born, he became very controlling. After he hit her for the first time, she left him. But with no family or friends, she had no place to go, and went back to Mark. He promised he wouldn’t hit her again and for a while he didn’t. Soon, the abuse started again. After Rachel had her second child, the abuse got worse. After a particularly bad fight, the Department of Social Services was called. Rachel was told that in order to keep her children (who had witnessed these fights) she would have to end her relationship with Mark.

Rachel immediately ended the relationship. Although it was wonderful that the abuse stopped, her children constantly spoke of missing their father. One day when her four-year-old daughter was being very disobedient, Rachel asked her why she was so angry. “You made my daddy go away!” her daughter exclaimed. Rachel, who never had a family of her own, felt she was the cause of her children not having an intact family. Without the contribution of Mark’s salary, Rachel was living in extreme poverty and often ran out of food at the end of the month. Mark took the family car when he left, leaving Rachel no choice but to spend $40 on taxis to take her son to the hospital when he had a severe asthma attack. After a particularly difficult day, she allowed Mark to move back into the house. Rachel made this decision partially because of her children’s requests and partially because she was too isolated and tired to resist his pleas to return home.

During the month Mark was gone, Rachel started attending classes to earn her high school equivalency diploma. Once Mark moved back in, he demanded she stay home. Soon the abuse began again and within a month the police were called. This time, Rachel was not given a choice and her children were taken to a foster home.

The literacy program where Rachel had been attending classes called FOA to request help for her. When Rachel was first referred to FOA she was devastated. Having been removed from her family as a child she had wanted something better for her children. She understood it was not healthy for them to witness the violence they had experienced, but she did not know how to change her life.

Working with the FOA caseworker, Rachel obtained a restraining order to keep Mark out of her life. The caseworker assisted Rachel in receiving the help she needed to ensure she would not have to reconcile with Mark to survive. The caseworker referred Rachel to a therapist to address her depression and trauma. Within two weeks, her children were returned to her.

Together, Rachel and the caseworker also identified the skills that Rachel possessed that would help her make a better life for herself and her children. Rachel and the caseworker identified that she was organized and a good public speaker; she had once successfully fought a corrupt landlord and won her case. Identifying these skills helped Rachel and her caseworker create a list of Rachel’s goals. She wanted to go back to school, to be involved in some community project, and to help other women who had experienced domestic violence.

The FOA caseworker helped Rachel return to school so she could work toward her high school degree and be eligible for a job-training program. Rachel attended a support group for battered women and therapy sessions with her children and came to recognize the impact that witnessing violence had on her children. Rachel became a leader in the group and has spoken at battered women’s marches. Slowly Rachel came to see that with help, she could learn how to make a better life for herself and her children. Rachel learned that the healthiest thing for her children is to be healthy herself. With the help of Family Outreach of Amherst, she is working toward that goal.

*All names have been changed to protect confidentiality.