It was to discuss the many issues surrounding poverty - its causes, effects and possible solutions - that the Hudson County Anti-Poverty Network and the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey held a Hudson County Regional Forum last week at Pope Hall located on the campus of St. Peter's College in Jersey City.
The goals of the forum, according to event information, were to: "create an ongoing Hudson County Anti-Poverty network which will work to address issues of poverty on a local level," to empower impoverished people to get help and look for solutions, and "inform elected officials, the press and the community on local poverty issues and to create and maintain working relationships with elected officials."
According to Santos Murillo of the Sharing Place, a shelter in Jersey City, "Hudson County has always been a poor collection of communities. Some more than others. Sure, it has affluent people, but none of them are from here, and that creates a kind of division among the community. We have very powerful rich and very weak poor people. But if the poor were to be able to coalesce and create an organization, they would realize that they could actually be quite powerful. All it takes is a spark."
Headed by Anne Christensen of Women Rising, a Hudson County-based organization that assists women and their families to achieve self sufficiency and live safe, fulfilling and productive lives by providing them access to counseling, shelter, advocacy and child care, and by Cathy Chin of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, the forum attracted an overflow crowd consisting of students, care-givers, elected officials and members of the community. Assemblywoman Joan Quigley was present for the forum as was a representative from U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine's office.
The forum began with a Power Point presentation given by the soft-spoken Anjali Srivastava, director of the Poverty Research Institute of Legal Services of New Jersey. The presentation served as a sort of statistical "slap in the face" for many gathered at the conference, for some of the numbers presented were shocking.
According to the presentation, the real cost of living in New Jersey is more than double what the federal standard is. In Hudson County, the rise in housing costs (what it truly costs to rent a one-bedroom apartment) between 2001 and 2002 was the second highest in the United States, rising 17.65 percent per month. In 2003, the "Housing Wage" in Hudson County is $14.52 per hour, more than three times the hourly minimum wage. What this translates to is that a minimum wage worker in Hudson County would have to work 136 hours a week in order to afford a one-bedroom unit at the area's fair market price.
It's easy to see how many of Hudson County's poor are being priced right out of whatever modest homes they may have had and into the street.
Another aspect of poverty in Hudson County and by extension, New Jersey, that was examined was the widening rift between those who have the money and those who do not, both literally and psychologically. From a monetary point of view, statistics show that there is a growing gulf. In 1999, (the last time statistics were compiled), 40 percent of households with the lowest income had only 12.6 percent of the total income, while the 5 percent of households with the highest income had 22.5 percent of total New Jersey income. What this means is that the small number that makes the most money to begin with, possesses the greatest amount of it, while one in every eight people in Hudson County are in poverty.
Cathy Chin of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey echoed Santos Murillo's sentiments and added, "Another concern I have is that the wealthier people that are coming into Hudson County are having less real contact with poor people. There's no connection, and that's creating an even greater divide in the communities."
Women Rising's Anne Christensen took an even tougher tack with the situation, saying, "To me, this is what 'homeland security' should be all about. Our state slogan is all about liberty and prosperity, but you have growing numbers of people scratching for food. It just doesn't make any sense."
No concrete answers were proffered at the conference, but the doors of discussion were opened. The Anti-Poverty Network of Hudson County will hold their next meeting on Monday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Parish Hall of St. Paul's Lutheran Church. The church is located at 440 Hoboken Ave. in Jersey City. Parking is available on the premises.