New anti-poverty group forms in Syracuse

By Charley Hannagan. Published from syracuse.com

A variety of groups already working to end poverty in Syracuse have created a coalition that organizers say seeks to change policies that keep people poor.

Greater Syracuse HOPE – Healing, Opportunity, Prosperity and Empowerment – wants to be the local anti-poverty initiative for Syracuse and Onondaga County. And organizers hope that the group will be in the running for a $500,000 state grant that was proposed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget to develop strategies to help poor people.

The governor has proposed the grants be made to Syracuse and nine other Upstate cities with the highest poverty rates. The cities also will have access to a $20 million grant pool that matches private sector and foundation funding. The state Legislature must approve the program.

The Greater Syracuse HOPE initiative grew out of the community’s concerns over a study released in September that showed Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2014 that 34 percent of the city’s population, including half of its children, were living in poverty.

HOPE is under the umbrella of the United Way of Central New York. It was formed out of a coalition of organizations that are already fighting poverty “in the trenches,” said Syracuse Common Councilor Helen Hudson. She co-chairs the group with Sharon Owens, the chief executive officer of the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility Inc., which operates the Southwest Community Center.

Poverty is too big of an issue to be attacked by any one organization, Hudson said. “This is not anything that can be done in a silo,” she said. “It has to be a holistic approach.”

The group has divided itself into six committees and each has members on it who is currently living in poverty or who have recently moved out of it. Those members are best able to advise organizers on what needs to change to make their lives better, Owens said.

The group is looking for policies that can be immediately changed to help people move out of poverty, Owens said. She offered as an example a proposal to tweak social services policy to allow the working poor to retain benefits, such as subsidized housing or daycare, for a longer period.

“We want to have policies continue to maintain some of those safety nets for a set period of time so that we’re not pulling the rug out from under people,” Owens said.

HOPE is a coalition of people from these agencies:

    • Central New York Community Foundation.
    • CNY Fair Housing
    • Harvest Christian Church
    • Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County
    • New York State Department of Labor
    • Northeast Community Center
    • Onondaga County Health Department
    • Spanish Action League
    • Syracuse City School District
    • Syracuse Community Health Center
    • Syracuse Trauma Response Team
    • Visions for Change

The organization has divided itself into six committees: community engagement, health, education, housing, economic strategy, and data, policy and marketing.

The economic strategy committee is already working with the United Way’s Work Train Collaborative with Centerstate CEO. The collaborative seeks to help people get the training they need to find jobs that will move them out of poverty.