Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Poverty In America: Generational Hunger In Cortland County

By Paul Shalala in Cortland, New York
A street in Cortland City

Cortland County is located in the northern part of New York state and its population is predominantly white.

It was initially inhabited by Native Americans whose numbers now make less than one percent of the total population.

According to the 2015 estimate by the United States Census Bureau, Cortland County has a total population of 48, 494 people and 94.9% of them are whites.

In terms of minorities, the US Census Bureau’s 2015 estimate states that African-Americans make up 1.9% while the remainder is shared by Native Americans and Hispanics.

The estimate further discloses that Cortland County has a poverty rate of 13.8% which is slightly below the national average of 14.8% but is one of the highest in the country.

And according to a 2015 report published by Seven Valleys Health Coalition entitled Cortland Counts: An assessment of Health and Well-Being in Cortland County, 20.7% of children live below the poverty line and 8.4% of them live under foster care.

Poverty here is mainly caused by unemployment which currently stands at 6.4%.

Cortland even beats the national average of unemployment which is 5.4%.

Most of the poor people in this county live in Cortland City, the county’s headquarters and largest city.

Poverty in this county is not new.

According to official county records, civil society organisations have been fighting poverty in Cortland for over a century.

YWCA of Cortland, a not for profit organisation dedicated to fighting poverty and mentoring children from poor homes, even runs safe homes were children are fed and educated for free.

Civil society organisations, which include non profits like the Salvation Army and Catholic relief agencies, have even formed a Hunger Coalition in Cortland to pull their resources together and fight poverty as one team.
Sara Earl 

Sara Earl, the Program Director at YWCA of Cortland, has 30 years experience in working with children living in poverty in the city and she says the problem is generational.

“Poverty in Cortland is unique and generational. You have children who live in homes where there is poverty. Their parents lived with poverty and their grandparents also had poverty. So its generational,” said Ms Earl when she briefed Mandela Washington fellows who were on a tour of the city on Friday.

She said due to the high poverty levels, half of the school going children in the county receive free lunches at school.

“We run a scholarship for children with poverty and we also have one thousand children in our child care centers. We offer them with mentorship and once every week, volunteer parents come over to mentor and make the children feel loved.”

When asked which race is more affected by poverty, Ms Earl said Caucasians were worst affected since the population of minorities like African-Americans and Hispanics is very minimal.

But unemployment is not the only contributor to poverty in the county.

According to Ms Earl, there is also inadequate housing and many people who have no homes live in mobile trailers.

This situation has forced civil society organisations to form another coalition focusing on housing.

“We formed the housing coalition in order for us not to duplicate interventions. So we plan and agree how to intervene and work towards housing for all,” she said.

And according to the report Cortland Counts: An assessment of Health and Well-Being in Cortland County, 9.8% of the population in Cortland County live in mobile homes.

This shows that the county has a higher percent than the whole of New York state which has 2.4% and the national average of 6.4%. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Poverty In America: Military Veterans, Health And Homelessness

By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York
The Syracuse VA Hospital

The United States is referred to as the land of opportunities, the land of plenty and the land of the free.

Americans pride themselves with so many inventions, an admirable system of governance and the largest economy.

With one of the modest and well funded militaries in the world, the US recruits thousands of people into its armed forces per year.

At the same time, thousands more are discharged due to age, injury or bad behavior.

Across the United States, millions of former soldiers (veterans) are re-integrated into society while others who cannot afford housing are kept by the federal government in some facilities.

"We currently have 21 million veterans from the various departments under the military," said Robert McLean, a Public Affairs Officer at the Syracuse Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital.

The hospital cares for former servicemen from the 13 counties of northern and western New York State.

Mr McLean, a former US Marine, says the Syracuse VA Hospital has an annual budget of $290 million, most of which goes towards paying of salaries for the 1, 700 employees.

The hospital offers various health services such as behavioral change, counselling, dental care, spine care, post traumatic stress, mental treatment and most illnesses connected with war.

Mr McLean, who recently took a group of 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows on a tour of the multi-story facility, revealed that a number of veterans who are homeless and poor are kept and cared for at the hospital.

"We are keeping a number of veterans as you can see. These are people who can not manage to feed themselves. We have a room where they watch TV, a room which is well decorated to reflect a military facility so that it can suit their previous life," said Mr McLean, pointing to a wall which has pictures of fighter jets, US flags and soldiers.

For poor soldiers who can not afford to be treated at expensive hospitals, VA hospitals is their home until the day they will breathe their last.

But for veterans who are poor but still energetic, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a program were they source for land and build houses for the former soldiers and resettle them.

During the tour, this blogger saw a number of resident veterans who were confined to wheelchairs but were actively moving around.
McLean briefing the Mandela Washington Fellows

The veterans have another open room where they play sports to keep them fit.

On an annual basis, an average of 47,000 veterans are treated at the Syracuse VA Hospital.

The Department of Veterans Affairs runs several of such hospitals across the US and offers these same services to veterans within the 50 states.

The department has an annual budget of $169 billion and according to Mr McLean, it is the second largest US Cabinet agency.

Apart from health care, the department also provides benefits to veterans, handles burials and runs cemeteries where veterans are buried.

Friday, 24 June 2016

American Public Broadcasting: A Possible Model For Africa

By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York
Entrance to WCNY Media Complex

Public Broadcasting Service is a tricky sector in most African countries due to the many interests from various sectors such as politics, tradition and business.

The African model is usually accused of being biased, inefficient, being perceived as unpopular and having boring programmes.

The fact that the state funds these public service media institutions make them targets for opposition criticism.

However, in the American context, public broadcasting is a local and community oriented concept which was developed to help people access information in their localities.

Despite being funded by the federal or state governments, public radio and TV stations across the USA do not air or propagate government policies or programs.

Their mandate is the local community where they are based and all their news and programming is local.

On Thursday, i visited WCNY, a local public service TV and radio station which covers central New York state.

The station was established 50 years ago by the New York state government but it calls itself a non profit organisation and is exempted from paying tax.

The station runs five TV channels and four radio stations

After a tour of the station and having a chat with some of its staff, this blogger decided to write about the concept of public broadcasting service in America.

No Political Adverts

WCNY is located in the center of New York state where politics is part of life and political advertising is very lucrative.

Actually, one of the four radio stations broadcasts from Albany, the capital of New State.

However, the station does not allow political adverts or any other form of campaigning.

This allows the station to remain neutral of any political influence.

But during election times, WCNY hosts a number of radio and TV programs were candidates from various political parties participate as a panel to articulate their policies and inform the public what issues they are bringing to the public.

"Public Broadcasting regulations do not allow us to broadcast political adverts. We however give a platform to political parties to reach out to our communities through various programs during elections," said Debbie Stack, WCNY Director for Education and Community Engagement.

She explains that they do not at all receive pressure or requests for broadcasts from the US federal government.

"We are funded by government but we do not have a feed for news from the federal government. We also diversify in other areas to raise revenue," she added.

Community Engagement

According to Ms Stack, Public Broadcasting Service was established in order to help local communities have easy access to information.

She says due to this idea, several of such stations were established across the United States and they concentrate their programming and news to local content and national affairs.

"Here in central New York, our community is largely native Americans, blacks and Hispanics. That is the society we strive to serve on a daily basis."

She says several radio and TV programs specially tailored for the community are either suggested by the community itself or conceptualised by the station.

"We have a radio program called 'Read out Radio' where a host reads headlines and important stories from local newspapers to the community. This helps our listeners have a feel of what is happening in their locality."

The radio also occassionally gives out radio receivers to residents in far flung areas to help them keep in touch with their favourite radio programmes.

Members of the community who are talented in radio or TV also volunteer to take part in the programming.

Poverty and Crime

Syracuse city is ranked as the poorest city in the US, according to a 2015 survey by a university Professor from Rutgers University and data from the US Census Bureau.

Poverty is common in the city due to the closure of several industries over the years and the increase in joblessness.

"This city is poor. We have a lot of poverty here. And due to poverty, crime is on the upswing," said Ms Stack.

WCNY and the Syracuse Police Department occassionally organise neighbourhood meetings to discuss issues of security and how to make the community secure.

The station also runs a weekly show dedicated to public affairs and it is intended to bring local issues and deal with the concerns raised by the public.

Multi-Racial Workforce

Due to the multi-racial nature of the inhabitants of Syracuse, WCNY has also employed a diverse workforce to match the needs of the community.

The city is dominated by Whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and a few Native Americans (First Nation people).

Debbie Stack (in red) addressing visitors
At present, the station has several interns, one of whom is a Kenyan-born lady who has brought the 'African' flavour to the institution.


The station is funded in various ways.

It receives funding from the federal government for its operations.

And being a member-driven institution, WCNY allows members of the community to be part of it by way of purchasing membership cards.

The station also carries out other ventures like selling (subscription) of its corporate magazine WCNY Connect.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Poverty In America: How The Church Is Feeding The Poor

By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York
John Stopper
It is real, it is there and people are going hungry every day in America.

Every time we think about the United States, we imagine a society where everyone has food, everyone drives and everyone is enjoying life.

But that is not the case, there is poverty in the United States of America.

But not everyone agrees that some people in the richest country in the world, go to bed on an empty stomach.

Even well known researchers and pundits deny that poverty exists in the country.

Writing in Forbes magazine on October 3, 2015, Tim Worstall, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London said: “"Paul Theroux’s latest book is a travelogue across the Deep South. And in it, according to his introduction to it in the NY Times, he asserts that said Deep South has been impoverished by the capitalist plutocrats offshoring all the jobs. That this isn’t in fact how an economy works is easy enough to forgive, for many people hold the same, incorrect, opinion. However, the other part of Theroux’s argument, about the existence of poverty in America, is less easy to pass by. Simply because he is a well traveled man, he has seen real absolute poverty up front and personal. And he should indeed know that nothing like that at all actually exists in the United States."

However, the reality on the ground is that there is a silent minority of beggars, homeless people and those doing what Americans call ‘minimum wage jobs’ who cannot manage to support themselves.

According to a report entitled Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 million people in the USA were living with poverty in 2014.

This means that the poverty rate for that year was at 15%.

The report further reveals that among those hard hit in 2014, people with disabilities accounted for 29% (4 million people) while 16% of women lived in poverty.

To get first hand information on poverty in America, this blogger decided to research and analyse the situation during his short stay in the country.

In the USA, Syracuse city is now ranked the highest metropolitan area with poverty among African-Americans and Hispanics.

The city is located northern part of New York state.

According to the 2015 estimate of the United States Census Bureau, out of a total population of 144, 142 of Syracuse, 35.1% live in poverty.

The report states that of that population, 56.% are whites, 29.5% are African-Americans while Hispanics make up 8.3% of the city.

According to an article published by on September 5, 2015, “"Syracuse is at the leading edge of a disturbing national trend in which the number of people living in extreme-poverty neighborhoods nearly doubled from 7.2 million in 2000 to 13.8 million in 2013, the highest on record."
“The trend reflects a sharp reversal from the progress reported in the 1990s, when the number of Americans living in such concentrated poverty fell by 25 percent by 2000.”
The article states that the data is based on a 2015 report by Paul Jargowsky, the Rutgers University-Camden professor who published the study with The Century Foundation.
Coincidentally, this blogger is in Syracuse for six weeks and is investigating and writing a number of stories on poverty in America.

At Syracuse University, there is a famous street where beggars and homeless people are found.

On Marshall Street, both white and black beggars are found and Police keep an eye on them because sometimes they can be aggressive in their pursuit.

The image projected by Hollywood movies and TV channels that there is no poverty in America is totally different from what one can see if they venture out of these big US cities.

Like many other small cities reliant on industries, Syracuse has seen several plants closing and people losing jobs over the years.

The town has recorded an increase in unemployment which has resulted in poverty increasing in the southern part of the town which is mainly inhabited by blacks (African-Americans).

In the northern part of the town is a growing community of mainly Asian and Hispanic immigrants and a small but increasing population of Congolese.

Syracuse Deputy Mayor Bill Ryan concedes that his city has one of the country's highest poverty levels and he blames the trend for the increase in crime and the abuse of drugs in the city.
Bill Ryan speaking at City Hall

Mr Ryan, who is also the City's Chief of Staff, says shootings in the city where three people lost their lives in the past three weeks are as a result of poverty and increase in gang activities.

"Because they live in poverty, these criminal gangs are now resorting to drugs and crimes. We are doing everything possible to ensure we find the people involved because in the area where these shootings happened, we never had such incidents," said Mr Ryan when he addressed Mandela Washington fellows who visited City Hall recently.

On Tuesday, this blogger joined other Syracuse University-based 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows to help in making sandwiches for poor people at the Bishop Harrison Center which is run by the Catholic Church.

The trip was arranged by the university to help the young African fellows appreciate the challenges Americans in poor communities face on a daily basis.

The center, which is located at the All Saints Parish of the Catholic Church, hosts volunteers who make sandwiches twice a week to feed poor people who cannot afford to buy food for themselves.

“"The sandwich program started in 1990 and we make one at least a thousand sandwiches per week to feed people in need. We make them here at All Saints but they are transported to Assumption Parish in the north where they are given to people who cannot afford to feed themselves,”" said John Stopher, a volunteer who coordinates the program.

Fellows making sandwich
A former science teacher, Mr Stopher says he works with mainly volunteers who give their time to help feed the homeless, poor and needy.

“"Per day, we feed about 500 with lunch and supper. People who receive our sandwiches are those who are unemployed, those who are doing minimum wage jobs and those who cannot manage to feed their families. Sometimes we even have parents coming with their children," he added.

Mr Stopher, who gave a 30 minutes briefing to the visiting Mandela Washington Fellows, said he has a heart for volunteering and his Catholic faith has helped him spend a lot of time helping the needy since he retired.

“"I no longer work and I have a pension. I now volunteer here at the center. I also volunteer for the blood bank and the Red Cross. This spirit of volunteering is very common in our city and we have a couple of people coming down here to help out with sandwiches every week.”"

In the past 26 years the program has been running, church members and food companies have sustained the sandwich program by donating food stuffs to feed the needy.

When the meals are ready, those in need are fed irrespective of their religious affiliation and are not obliged to be registered.

“"We feed whoever shows up at our window. We do not care where they come from or which church they go to……. Usually we receive a huge number of people towards the end of the month when pay cheques run out,"” said Mr Stopper.
Schedule of meals at the Samaritan Center

Another church-run feeding program is the Samaritan Center, a former church building which is now the only hope for hundreds of people who cannot to feed themselves.

The center was established by seven local churches and it receives donations of funds and food stuffs from restaurants and several other donors.

It offers breakfast and supper to between 150 and 400 people on a daily basis.

According to officials at the Samaritan Center, about 150,000 meals were saved last year.

Most of the people fed are African-Americans but there is also a significant number of white people who receive the meals.

Just a few kilometers away from the Samaritan Center is the headquarters of the Salvation Army, another religious center where poor people are housed and fed for free.

The place offers free lodging for individuals and families who have been evicted or are homeless.

They are fed, given life skills and helped to get jobs.

On average, the homeless are given shelter for 20 days and there after they are expected to find a job or a new home.

"We are located in the southern part of Syracuse because this is where poverty is. We serve over 38,000 people through 41 separate programs, catering different groups of people," said Andrew Sabbaghzadeh, Resource Development Director at the Salvation Army Syracuse Headquarters.
Mr Sabbaghzadeh talking to Mandela Washington fellows

He said Salvation Army was working hard to fit into the US federal government's plan to eradicate poverty by 2022.

"Syracuse is nationally recognised because of its poverty. We are doing our best to cater for the poor through our programs."

The Salvation Army, which has been operating in Syracuse for over 100 years, has an annual budget of $20 million funded by grants from the federal and state governments as well as donors.

According to Salvation Army Onondaga County Chief Executive Officer Major Karla Clark, most of the money is raised during Christmas parties. 

"Despite being a church, the Salvation Army serves people of all races and religious faiths. Nobody is required to be a church member in order to receive our services," said Major Clark when she addressed visiting 2016 Mandela Washington fellows at her office.

Apart from offering shelter and food to the homeless, the church also runs the Therapy program which is aimed at helping youths break away from gangs and find alternatives like jobs and education to reduce the levels of violence in the city.

Syracuse is estimated to have over 100 gangs.

Apart from these church run initiatives, poor people in Syracuse, a town which falls under Onondaga County, have two other options of having a meal.

Firstly, the Onondanga County provides food and other supplies through a program called the Food Bank.

Here, those in need are registered by the county administration and queue up at centers to receive their meals.

According to Stopper, the Food Bank in a county benefits from US Federal funding.

Food banks operate like warehouses where food stuffs are collected and stored before being distributed to NGOs and food pantries which give food to the needy.

Secondly, the needy also receive meals from several centers called Pantries where free meals are issued at no cost.

The pantries survive on generosity from donors and other well wishers to feed thousands of people in Syracuse.

Apart from receiving donated food supplies, the pantries also buy cheap food stuffs from the local Food Banks.

Friday, 10 July 2015

B Flow Storms Hollywood, Records Soundtrack For A Movie

By Paul Shalala
B Flow with producer Thom Russo

Zambia's multi-award winning rapper B Flow has stormed the world acclaimed Hollywood and recorded a soundtrack for a forthcoming movie.

B Flow, whose real name is Brian Bwembya, recorded the soundtrack for a forthcoming movie which stars Dannish superstar Thomas Buttenschon.

The Zambian artist visited Hollywood last week at the invitation of 16 time Grammy award winning producer Thom Russo.

This is what B Flow wrote on his Facebook page about the visit: "I was INVITED by Michael Jackson's Producer Mr Thom Russo. Am talking about a man who has won 16 GRAMMY AWARDS for producing artists like Michael Jackson, Baby Face, Jay-Z, John Travolta, Faith Evans and a lot more on albums that went platnum selling between 1 million and 20 million copies worldwide per album."

He also revealed that during the visit, he also recorded some songs for his forthcoming album.

B Flow at the UN Headquaters in New York
"We also have two songs for my 4th album. Again allow me to stress that am NOT paying any money for these songs. Thom Russo is producing them for free as a gift to me because he thinks am doing a great job back in Africa because am using my talent for a good cause. I will soon post some video clips from the studio plus much more," he added.

B Flow is among 21 young Zambians who are in the USA for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

At the end of July, B Flow will be among thousands of African young fellows who are expected to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington for a Presidential Summit which is the highlight of the fellowship.

During the six weeks fellowship, B Flow is based Wagner College in New York where he is learning Civic Leadership but occassionally travels across the US for music-related engagements.

Luckily for the rapper, he has been granted a further six weeks to do internship within New York.