Smith County residents who are in poverty don’t have just one issue to deal with, but often five or six, revealed a comprehensive survey released on Monday at The Human Needs Conference.
“There are so many issues they’re battling, they’ve lost hope,” said Christina Fulsom, representative of the East Texas Human Needs Network, the group that conducted the survey.
More than 1,000 low-income residents were interviewed through the 30-minute, Institutional Review Board-approved survey; 455 adults were represented, while 597 were children.
“It’s such a worthy cause,” said Aubrey Sharpe, Dean of Continuing Studies at Tyler Junior College and Executive Administrator of the West Campus, where the conference was held. “I applaud the creation of the East Texas Human Needs Network. It’s needed.”
The network was founded in September of 2012.
“There’s a hunger organizations have to address these needs,” said Christina Fulsom, representative of the network. “These agencies knew they couldn’t address all these issues alone.”
According to the survey, the top needs are a living wage, school tuition, career and job training, dental care and utility assistance.
In 2010, the U.S. Census estimated that 37,000 people in Smith County were living in poverty.
“I think that number is greater today,” Mrs. Fulsom said.
About 64 percent of those surveyed were white, 24 percent were black and 12 percent were veterans. Also, 75 percent lived in Tyler, the other 25 percent were from outlying towns. Some 33 percent were single.
About 43 percent of single mothers were living below the poverty line.
Several factors can also contribute to being in poverty, Mrs. Fulsom said.
“This may be common sense to us, but economic need has the greatest impact,” she said.
Other factors that increased chances of poverty were having a low education level, being unemployed, having a large family or being a minority or being female.
“These stories of good people who face crisis are unfolding in our community every day,” said Anne McCrady, a speaker at the event.
About 65 percent of those surveyed were living below the federally stated poverty line.
About 33 percent said they needed a high school diploma or GED. About 42 percent were unemployed, but no one surveyed said they were receiving unemployment benefits, Mrs. Fulsom said.
“That tells you that they’ve been unemployed so long that they no longer qualify,” she said.
About a quarter of the people surveyed said they don’t have a driver’s license or car insurance, according to the survey.
“They are terrified every time they get behind the wheel,” Mrs. Fulsom said.
Carlton Allen, head of the healthcare committee with the network, said at first he was surprised that dental and vision care needs were the top things reported in the healthcare portion of the survey.
“Then I thought about it, and even if you have insurance, it often doesn’t cover dental and vision,” he said. “And there are no dental and vision emergency rooms.”
About 44 percent of people surveyed had no health insurance, a need Mrs. Fulsom stressed.
“A few years ago, if I hadn’t had health insurance, I would be in a wheelchair today,” she said. “There are people dying because they don’t have insurance.”
Now that the data has been analyzed, the group stressed the importance of community awareness.
“I’ve been working on these issues for 15 years and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am right now,” Mrs. Fulsom said. “If we can address multiple factors, we can change the future … Share this with your Sunday school classes, with your neighbors, with your parents, with your children. When we know, we understand. When we understand, we feel compassion. When we feel compassion, we act.”
The full report will be available soon atwww.ethnn.org .