Don’t get me wrong–I like stats. I’m pretty sure you can muck around with them to prove any point you want to make but I like that someone did the research to find out how many of what sort of thing there is in the world.
But last night I attended an interfaith summit on child poverty in Buncombe county and the stats were disheartening at best and sickening at worst.
In this county–which boasts the Biltmore House, a state-of-the-art hospital system and a thousand micro-breweries–50% of the children in the two public school systems (county and city) are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.
$8 million comes into the Smart Start program and there are still children on waiting lists for safe childcare.
Food prices continue to rise as wages stagnate or actually fall. “Affordable housing” has a new name–“workforce” housing. Does that make the recipients seem more worthy? They are workers, not just poor people trying to make ends meet in a tourism-based economy. It’s a joke either way. A few folks are working on it–Holly Jones spoke most eloquently about it at the meeting, Habitat is building homes here and Mountain Housing does good work in this area. But as long as commercial developers have their eye on condos for part-time residents and the Planning and Zoning department–and the city and county leadership–don’t seem to have the will to make demands on these companies that generally come from somewhere else to take advantage of the beautiful setting that was Asheville–as long as all of this is true, it is going to be hard to make ends meet here.
Sure the hipsters and dilettantes can get disheartened and fed up and go to the next fertile field. But what about those children, stuck in a cycle of weak education and bad housing and hungry bellies? It’s potentially half the children in our public schools. Half of them. One in two.
I made a lot of notes last night and in one of the margins of my notepad, I started making a list of these broken, crashing systems.
It is overwhelming to think of all that needs to be done and the failure of elected leadership in these areas is a test for all of us to find better candidates or be better candidates. Because leadership is not easy or popular but it is necessary. And a leader has to be someone with more than a big war-chest and powerful friends.
As we face the Samhain season and the Winter that will follow, we surely have an obligation to honor our Ancestors…and leave a better world for our Descendants.