Rochester has got some big problems to solve.
Leaders of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative held a town hall meeting at the Edgerton Stardust Ballroom recently. The idea was to gather input from the people who live in poverty and the agencies that serve them. Their experiences can inform the work of the initiative, and their input will help direct the task force's work, says Leonard Brock, the initiative's director. The group expects to issue an initial report by the end of the month.
Mayor Lovely Warren said that poverty isn't something that the community can fix overnight, but by identifying problems and developing strategies for government and the community to address them, they can make improvements little by little.
"How we deal with our poor is what matters most," she said.
The crowd split up into eight subgroups focused on jobs and workforce development, education, health and nutrition, housing, the justice system, child care, transportation, and safe neighborhoods. The groups developed lists of several dozen concerns and recommendations.
At the safe neighborhoods station, one woman said that there used to be a barber shop on her way to work. When she walked by, she was repeatedly told, she said, that she wasn't allowed on the sidewalk. She felt intimidated, she said, but didn't let the harassment deter her. She said that her neighborhood off Lake and Lyell avenues has benefited from an increased police presence, but that officers mostly ride around in their cars. She'd like to see officers walking their beats, she said, and getting to know the people who live and work in the neighborhood.
She and several other speakers also said that something needs to be done about the high number of places that sell alcohol, lottery tickets, loose cigarettes, and drug paraphernalia. The stores shouldn't be allowed to stay open as late as they are, they said, and they'd like to see community-owned stores.
They also said that neighborhood watch programs could improve public safety.
At the justice system table, one woman suggested that offenders sentenced to jail or prison time should be required to work toward degrees, whether a GED or a college diploma. Other speakers suggested the creation of neighborhood crisis centers to intercept troubled youth before they end up in jail, and to train community members to intervene when they see youths in trouble. They also recommended community courts for low-level offenders.
They also criticized sentencing disparities and the lack of black or Hispanic parole officers in Rochester. And they said that youth need opportunities to get involved with the justice system as a career.
In the child care group, speakers identified transportation as a challenge. Parents with more than one child often have to travel to multiple day care locations, and then to work. They suggested a child care hub, where parents receiving day care subsidies could drop their children off, and where they could also receive job training, parenting training, and medical services. At the transportation group, speakers suggested creating a family pass for the bus system so parents can save on fares.
The education station received the most interest, by far, and it generated a lengthy list of issues and suggestions. They ranged from ending social promotion, increasing access to job and vocational training for students, increasing teacher diversity and developing culturally relevant curriculum, integrating child care with the education system, teaching students life skills such as financial literacy, and increasing parental involvement in schools.
Brock, the initiative's director, said that he wasn't surprised by the interest in education, since it goes hand in hand with poverty.
"It's holistic," he said. "Education is not solely the responsibility of K-12 educational leaders."