By Katrina Weston
Edward Doherty, retired vice president of community programs at the Rochester Area Community Foundation, and author of Rochester’s recent poverty report, recently a gave a speech at Syracuse’s Elmwood Presbyterian Church, 1640 South Ave., to let Syracuse residents know where the city stands in terms of poverty, and what steps the community can take to begin to make improvements.
“Maybe our poverty levels really are high enough for us to start focusing on it as an issue,” Doherty stated. “Rochester is at 33 percent, and Syracuse falls in at about 34 percent. If added to this list, Syracuse would place at number four on the list.”
Rochester currently places as the fifth poorest city in the nation on Doherty’s poverty list, and the city currently holds the third highest degree of concentrated poverty among any city in the U.S, he stated.
Officials in Rochester recently created an anti-poverty task force to address the matter.
However, according to Doherty, his analysis of Syracuse is just a thumbnail view of the city’s standing relative to poverty. He also could not say with absolute certainty that Syracuse schools were in worse shape than those in Rochester. Nonetheless, he said he was willing to bet a tall iced latte that they were.
When it comes to levels of child poverty, according to Doherty’s research, Syracuse’s rate is lower than Rochester’s, but he said the difference in percentages is small, and, by the time new U.S. Census data is released this month, those percentages may change.
“This is where Syracuse stacks among the big six cities,” he stated. “Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo are one, two, and three.”
According to Doherty, when he first released the data in Rochester, he didn’t know whether people would attack the information, or embrace it, but, ultimately, he said he was overwhelmed by the community’s support.
“Media attention to the work was dramatic,” he stated. “We received an immediate outcry for us to take action. And, people who are in positions that are working directly with the poor were like, ‘that’s no surprise,’ although the community at large was a bit taken back by it. Saying that we are almost as poor as Detroit, putting it in that context, got people’s attention. We are the only city of our size online inderal where more than half of our children live poverty. A lot of people struggle with hearing that.”
Even the state budget director expressed his surprise at Rochester’s predicament, stating, ‘Boy, I always thought Rochester was in good shape. I am shocked to hear how poor Rochester is,’ Doherty stated.
Subsequently, Doherty and a team of others began to evaluate those circumstances, and to come up with steps that Rochester, and other cities, could take in an effort to begin to repair the problem.
“We held several meetings,” he stated. “We took it on the road. We went right to the community, and we held meetings within the community, as well as with churches and businesses, in Rochester. We met with 65 to 70 groups that were directly affected by the poverty issues in the area.”
Following the release of Doherty’s report, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s anti-poverty task force also visited Rochester. And, once the state stepped in, Doherty said it had become clear solving the problem would require a more drastic approach.
The state granted the city $6 million to begin its new anti-poverty efforts, after which the city developed a steering committee consisting of 19 members.
According to Doherty, the committee includes representatives from local health and human services agencies, as well as representatives from academia, business, and government.
In addition, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, Rochester Business Alliance Inc. CEO Robert Duffy, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren are all members of the steering committee.
The city also developed five more groups, which focused on areas such as education, jobs, workforce training, health and nutrition, and policy and system design, Doherty stated.
Those five groups quickly expanded to eight work groups, he said.
“In each group, we involved people who are directly affected by the poverty issues in Rochester,” Doherty stated. “We are making progress. However, this is not a problem that will be solved overnight, or quickly. But, progress is being made, and Syracuse can begin the healing process as well. Poverty is at an all-time high in Syracuse. There is more work that needs to be done to get accurate information, but I have given you a summary of the research I have done for the Syracuse area.”