MICHIGAN CITY — Strategies are being developed to tackle poverty in LaPorte County.
During a roundtable discussion Tuesday by about 30 local stakeholders, former LaPorte Mayor Leigh Morris said poverty has gone up dramatically here over the years and now is "on an equal par with Lake County."
The United Way of LaPorte County (UWLPC) is spearheading the effort to decrease poverty. It started last year by compiling statistics that show 16 percent of households here are in poverty while another 21 percent earn less than the basic cost of living.
"When you look at the demographics of the community, the problems are huge," said Kris Pate, executive director of UWLPC.
Among the causes identified during the 90-minute discussion were loss of industry, low educational attainment levels, attitudes and behaviors inherited from previous generations and lack of household budgeting skills.
There was also brainstorming on how social service agencies here can be more effective at reaching people with the help required for lifting themselves out of poverty.
Pate said a lot of good work is being done now to combat the problem and wondered if the solution rests more in tweaking the system now followed for providing services in areas like education.
"What are the barriers we can break down systemically," she asked.
Dave Sisk, director of corporate engagement for the UWLPC, said a new initiative already underway is aimed at getting more people to open bank accounts.
He said the 3,000 people in LaPorte County who don't have a bank account wind up spending money that could be used for staying current with monthly expenses on fees and penalties assessed on transactions not involving a lending institution.
Another solution identified in the group discussion was increasing the amount of affordable housing.
People who are homeless are focused more on just surviving, but with a roof it's easier for them get back on their feet and be reached with services to help with the process, according to those in the group discussion.
"Until you get someone in housing, it's just crisis mode," Pate said.
The next step is to develop a formal plan for addressing the problem. Pate suggested the group meet on a regular basis to help sharpen the line of attack.
"I see a lot of value in that," she said.