Suburban families suffer through poverty
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2012
6/27/12 at 9:18 AM
Correction: A Sunday Tulsa World graphic incorrectly stated the number of people living below the poverty level, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. In Broken Arrow, the population was 96,608 and 5,770 were below the poverty level. In Owasso, the population was 27,821 and 2,043 were below the poverty level. In Bixby, the population was 20,107 and 1,052 were below the poverty level. This story has been corrected.
Cindy Moore woke up one warm June morning to realize she had only a bag of rice to feed her three young grandchildren.
So she and her sister drove the grandkids from Leonard to Bixby Community Outreach Center, where they received a cart full of groceries and some clothes to get by.
"I promised my husband when he passed away that I'd take care of the family because that's what you're supposed to do," she said. "We might not have much, but we have love."
Lydia Arredondo looks for clothes for her infant son at Broken Arrow Neighbors. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Even in the area's more affluent, rapidly growing suburbs, with relatively stable home values and employment rates, many families are hurting.
"People think of Bixby, and they think fast-growing community, great schools, nice homes - but there's a lot of poverty, too," Executive Director Natalie Kemmerly said.
When the 2010 Census data was released, Bixby's population had grown 57 percent - making it the state's 20th-largest city.
But with population growth in America's suburbs came an increase in poverty.
Nationally, poverty in the suburbs rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, the bulk of that growth occurring after the recession began in 2007, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit research and policy group.
Christian McCormick, 6, holds the door to the Bixby Community Outreach Center on a recent morning. McCormick had rice for breakfast because there was no more food in his grandma's home. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
As Bixby continued to boom, Bixby Community Outreach Center saw demand for services grow, too, Kemmerly said.
In 2006, its first year, the center assisted about 368 families. By 2011, it had helped more than 3,500 families - nearly 13,000 individuals - both residents of the town and smaller communities in south Tulsa County.
It provides food, clothing, household items, gas vouchers and small, no-interest loans.
The Brookings Institution has published several recent studies examining the "suburbanization" of poverty: While homes and populations may have sprawled into the suburbs during the halcyon days of the housing boom, the jobs and resources didn't necessarily follow.
Meaning those living in poverty in the suburbs may have less access to jobs, public transportation and agencies that could assist them, according to Brookings.
The Bixby center has seen its clientele change over the past few years, Kemmerly said.
"We find a lot more working poor coming in, as well as those who've come from middle management and have gone through their savings," she said. "Now we're even seeing some of our donors coming in."
Cindy Moore's husband, Preston, died about a year and a half ago, and it's been tough to make ends meet since then, she said.
Moore's adult daughter and son-in-law also live with her and her sister, Pat. Moore's Social Security survivor's benefit and disability check (she has an inoperable aneurysm) only goes so far, she said.
"This place has been a blessing for us," she said.
Kemmerly said the center focuses on trying to lift people out of the cycle of poverty, not just handing out checks.
One of its most frequently sought types of assistance are small, interest-free loans - usually about $100 - that clients must begin repaying within 60 days.
They're typically used to avoid disconnected utilities, eviction or to pay for non-narcotic prescription medications (such as those for high blood pressure and diabetes), among other expenses.
A single mother of five who was going through a divorce came in one afternoon to get help with her gas bill, Kemmerly said.
"We have a lot of families where both parents work but make minimum wage," she said. "Every penny is being used, so if they have one hiccup, their whole world collapses."
Often, they make just enough money that they don't qualify for federal housing assistance or food stamps.
A new condition
The headquarters of Broken Arrow Neighbors is cluttered with kindness: donated pancake mixes and spaghetti dinners for the food pantry, toddler shoes and clothes for the clothing room, lamps and blankets and dishes to help at home.
Broken Arrow has seen the composition of its client base change "somewhat drastically" over the past two years, Executive Director Kim Goddard said.
For lack of a better explanation, she said, they're "people who have no idea how to be poor."
Asking for help and trying to find services they need is "very humiliating" for those who've never been there before.
Most of the people she sees have ended up there because of a reduction in their hours and income at work or an increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses, she said.
"So many times, people automatically assume they're responsible for being here, and often, that's not the case," she said.
Many are earning about $25 too much per month to qualify for food stamps and just can't find a way to make ends meet with increasing expenses for groceries, gas and medical bills, Goddard said.
Even for those who receive food stamps, there are daily necessities the program doesn't cover, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, she said.
Sacha Nix, 32, was in the waiting room, nervously filling out paperwork. It was her first time to seek help at the agency, for assistance in paying an electric bill for her family's condo.
She was recently diagnosed with lupus and is unable to work as a nurse's aide until she starts feeling better, she said. Her husband is on disability. He's a Navy veteran who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, was injured in combat and suffers post-traumatic stress disorder.
They have three children, and she's the only one in her family not covered by health insurance.
"I have a lot of doctor bills now," she said. "We just got a little behind."
'Start taking care of our people'
Last year, Mission Owasso started a food pantry it called "Wild Wednesday" where anyone in need could come pick up food provided through donations by local stores and restaurants.
Billy Grimm works to get his truck started after receiving food at Mission Owasso. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Billy Grimm stopped by one morning to get some food. The retired bridge builder lives off his Social Security checks and gets just enough to pay the bills, he said.
He often takes some of his food to other friends who are hurting, he said.
After picking up some food at Mission Owasso's weekly "Wild Wednesday," Billy Grimm rubs his face as he talks about his friends suffering in a tough economy. Every Wednesday morning, the nonprofit hands out donated food to neighbors in need. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
"There are so many people out of work here," he said. "Americans better wake up and start taking care of our people."
Clothing for a newborn
Lydia Arredondo, 20, stopped by Broken Arrow Neighbors on a Tuesday afternoon looking for clothes for her 1-month-old son, Vicente.
Lydia Arredondo typically comes to Broken Arrow Neighbors for clothes and also receives food every now and then. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Director Kim Goddard and the staff stopped to coo over the cherubic newborn, who sat quietly in a carrier while his mom looked at the agency's clothes closet.
While clothes are what Arredondo typically comes to BA Neighbors to get help with, she's gotten bags of food every now and then, too. She was working at restaurants before Vicente arrived but has been at home since he was born and needed some help with clothes and baby items, she said.
Getting around to get help
Ryan Ward's roommate drives him to Mission Owasso most weeks for "Wild Wednesday."
Owasso resident Ryan Ward waits for a ride to a medical appointment for his prosthetic leg. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
A diabetic, 48-year-old Ward lost part of his leg to infection a few years ago. He can walk on a prosthetic leg sometimes, but he has to hitch a ride with friends or call Sooner Ride to get transportation to medical appointments.
Mission Owasso is close to his house, making it easier for him to visit when he needs food or clothes, he said.
The outreach ministry of First Baptist Owasso has only been in its current facility about a year and has already outgrown the space. It's looking for a larger facility nearby, Director Laura Gorrell said.
"If we moved to where there was more space farther out of town, some of these people may not be able to come by," she said.
A helping hand in the suburbs
- Broken Arrow Neighbors, 322 W. Broadway Ave. 918-251-7781
- Bixby Community Outreach Center, 4 East Dawes Ave. 918-366-9226
- Mission Owasso, 708 N. Main 918-516-6638
Individuals provided services by the Bixby Community Outreach Center (which serves Bixby, Jenks, Glenpool, Keifer, Haskel, Leonard, Liberty and Mounds) and Broken Arrow Neighbors for 2011.
Bixby Community Outreach Center
Children (ages 0-17): 6,045
Adults (18-54): 5,312
Seniors (55 and older): 1,525
Total individuals: 12,882
Broken Arrow Neighbors
Children (0-18): 4,245
Adults (19-64): 5,350
65 and older: 1,415
More than 11,000 individuals received assistance
Source: Bixby Community Outreach Center and Broken Arrow Neighbors
Original Print Headline: Filling the void
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Cindy Moore's food is gathered at Bixby Outreach Center. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Winter McCormick (left), 2, Natalie McCormick, 7, and Christian McCormick, 6, wait in the lobby at Bixby Community Outreach Center. The children came to the center after their grandmother, Cindy Moore, realized she only had rice in her house to feed them. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World