Carbondale’s poverty crisis

Steven Schauf, a Carbondale native, is familiar with the city’s poverty problem which inspired him to start his credit mending company, Impressive Funding Solutions.

Carbondale has the highest level of poverty in the state of Illinois, according to the most recent US Census Bureau data.

“I’m going on my second year owning a credit repair business,” Schauf said. “We deal with financial literacy, and, being in this sector, it gives me the opportunity to help some of the individuals down here with [… learning] the foundation of basically all of your finances.”


When Schauf worked at a Volkswagen dealership in Marion, Illinois he saw many people who weren’t able to secure loans for a car, and would be pushed towards, “buy here, pay here,” car dealerships where customers would spend three times more than they should have.

“This is what’s keeping most people in poverty,” Schauf said. “You’re doing things like that, as well as[…] having to come up with crazy down payments.”

Emilia Ruzicka, a data reporter at Stacker, said many people have written studies about what it takes to lift people out of poverty.

“There have been many studies put out about what raising the minimum wage might do to help alleviate certain amounts of poverty, or providing additional social services through local, state or federal government,” Ruzicka said.

About 43% of Carbondale residents live below the poverty line, according to the most recent US Census data.

The percentage is especially concerning because the national poverty rate is only 13.4%, Schauf said, a statistic corroborated by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Schauf said the most impoverished area in Carbondale has always been the Northeast side of the city, the Tatum Heights and the Lake Heights areas.


Quianya L. Enge, founder of the nonprofit Beyond the Walls, which provides resources for people returning from prison or local jails, said Carbondale has a lot of room for improvement in terms of socio-economic equity and a positive net outlook.

“The town is so small, and the houselessness rate is so high,” Enge said. “In every space, you see groups of homeless people […] the warming center has tripled its size since the opening.”

Part of the problem is a low level of home ownership, Schauf said.

“The national population for homeownership is 65.4%, but in Carbondale, it is 28.9%,” Schauf said.

High unemployment, racial bias, and bad practices among landlords all also contribute to the problem, Enge said.

“We definitely know that racism is prevalent in Carbondale, and they use it to discriminate, when they’re hiring. They use it to discriminate when they’re doing pre-screening for housing applications,” Enge said.

People who can find housing in Carbondale are often in precarious situations, and don’t have a way to address neglect or malfeasance by their landlords, Enge said.

“The circumstances they [tenants] are living under is horrible,” Enge said. “I think the city contributes to people living in poverty because they don’t hold businesses liable, and they don’t hold property management liable.”

The city has mixed up priorities, Enge said, and described the local legal and economic situation as “colonial-adjacent.”

“You can’t say you want people to come to visit and improve tourism, but you don’t improve the way that the people [who] pay your taxes live,” Enge said.

Cities like Carbondale often don’t have resources to address poverty issues, Schauf said, which is why state and federal programming is so important for locals.

“There are so many people with a lack of jobs. Even the ones who do have jobs, it’s so low paying,” Schauf said. “Without that help of SNAP, Section Eight, and all of those programs it’d be tough for a lot of those mothers.”

Carbondale City Council Member Ginger Rye Sanders said the impoverished community is scattered around the city.

“There’s problems and poverty because a lot of students here, they’re barely making it,” Sanders said. “They’re trying to overcome all of the struggles that they have in order to study, and still eat and do the things that they need to do.”

Sanders said documentation disparity is one of the big problems when it comes to people getting employed.

“I have people that come up to me and they say […] ‘I applied for this job, and I never got a phone call or plan for the apprentice program with the labor union’,” Sanders said.

Sanders attempted to contact Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Chancellor, Austin Lane, about employment programs, and hasn’t gotten a response, she said.

SIU could be doing more for the community by funding programs in the city, and providing better benefits to the people, Schauf said, but, right now, SIU is disconnected from the rest of the city.

“I just think with the help of SIU getting out there, Impressive Funding Solutions can have more interns to come out and help these businesses,” Schauf said.

Schauf thinks his company’s tools could help bring more business and customers to the area, which, he said, could also help locals with money troubles.

“Another thing that we teach at Impressive Funding Solutions is how to obtain business credit,” Schauf said. “I think that will help the area as well with jobs and actually bring in people from other areas that visit and traffic to come to patronize different companies from the area.”

Enge said the city needs to overhaul its housing regulations.

Sanders does what she can to reach out to groups in the community about spreading awareness on concerns of poverty, she said.

“We need more organizations like the Eurma Hayes Center, the organization that I’m with, Women for Change, Carbondale United,” Sanders said. “It’s not until we all get on the same page and work together to come up with solutions that this is going to be resolved because it’s systemic.”

Staff reporters Jamilah Lewis and Kamaria Harmon can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis and @QuoteKamariaa. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter