Daily Egyptian

Community Coalition wants to end poverty

By Anna Spoerre, @ASpoerre_DE

The Illinois budget impasse further complicates the discussion of homelessness in southern Illinois.

Imagining Geographies, a university-funded initiative that focuses on regional issues, partnered with The Sparrow Coalition to host “Challenges of Poverty in Carbondale, The Budget Crisis, The Fates of the Vulnerable and Regional Social Services” on Tuesday at Carbondale Public Library.

A panel of five community members discussed consequences of Illinois’ budget crisis on the area’s homeless population.

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Marlene Sheppard, spokesperson for The Sparrow Coalition, a community partnership addressing poverty and homelessness in southern Illinois, said there has been increasing poverty in the region.

“The impasse truly is a crisis for the most vulnerable in our state, and in particular for southern Illinoisans, who are disproportionately affected by poverty,” Sheppard said before opening the floor for the community to discuss a solution.

Peter Lemish, facilitator of Imagining Geographies and visiting assistant professor of journalism at SIU, said southern Illinois has been defined as a poverty zone. He said the community should consider political and advocacy work as well as regional collaboration. He said reaching a solution needs to be a group effort.

“We are the voices of some of the vulnerable people whose voices are not being heard here and we need to find a way to wake up this region,” Lemish said. “We need to be acting collectively and let the legislature and those who are influential know that this region is not to be taken for granted.”

“Our fundamental problem is we have a dysfunctional state government,” said Carbondale Mayor John “Mike” Henry, who co-facilitated the event with Lemish.

Henry said he recently met with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner who said a budget would not pass until January, even though the deadline was nearly four months ago.

Jennifer Cushman, field coordinator and policy specialist for the Responsible Budget Coalition, a group concerned with seeking solutions to state budget and tax issues, said the current budget stalemate caused a significant loss in state revenue. This is because personal and income tax rates dropped sharply.

“This is causing the severe pain and harm to families and communities across the state,” Cushman said.

Mike Heath, executive director of Carbondale’s Good Samaritan Ministries, a non-profit organization that provides food and shelter for those in need, said waiting until January to reach a settlement will create major problems for the emergency shelter, which is primarily funded by the state.

“On a normal year, we would have received just under $50,000 from the state of Illinois,” he said. 

He said the organization has yet to receive state funding for this fiscal year for their emergency shelter, which hosts about 20 people per night. The soup kitchen, which served just under 34,000 meals last year, came within a week of closing last month. 

Camille Doris, executive director of the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless, said the group provides affordable housing services to individuals who are, or are at risk of becoming homeless.

The coalition recently took out a loan to pay employees and sold off property to raise funds and prepare for more cuts in the near future.

“These are properties that would normally be available to individuals who are homeless,” Doris said.

She said six homes are vacant because the lack of funding has prevented necessary repairs. 

“In terms of the future, it’s difficult to fathom what’s going to happen,” she said.

Gary Williams, interim city manager of Carbondale, said when social services are cut for impoverished citizens, greater problems arise. 

Mariam Link-Molleson, director of the Jackson County Health Department, said lawmakers need to advocate for people’s needs.

“It’s a bigger picture than just a budget, it is really trying to encourage our lawmakers to set priorities that support our families and our communities,” she said.

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ASpoerre_DE 

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