The Journal Gazette
Saturday, July 10, 2021 1:00 am

United Way to focus on 4 priorities

CEO: Housing stability, food, mental health, education

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Five years ago, Fort Wayne ranked 13th in the country for evictions with 12% of households experiencing one of four severe housing problems including overcrowding, high housing costs and a lack of kitchen and plumbing facilities. 

While local authorities wait to see how the novel coronavirus affects household evictions after a federal evictions moratorium is lifted July 31, housing affordability and availability remain a crisis if you are low income, said Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute, a key partner in United Way of Allen County's new report on Allen County data. 

Housing stability is one of four priorities the United Way of Allen County has chosen to be a principal focus starting next year when the current three-year funding cycle ends, Matthew Purkey, president and CEO said Friday after the United Way held a press conference at the Allen County Public Library downtown to announce its new approach to solving local problems. 

The other three priorities are food security, mental health access and educational opportunities. 

How the United Way will help people facing housing and other crises will be developed over the next eight months, Purkey said. Besides the Community Research Institute, the United Way consulted with multiple local sources.

Blakeman said in a phone interview Friday that understanding the community is to recognize “there are substantial disparities from our highest to our lowest income” whether the data comes through the census, ZIP code or subcounty units. 

Reports generated by the Community Research Institute compare Allen County's data to data statewide and national for context. 

In a report released Friday, “United Way Allen County Priorities,” three of the areas concern residents' public health: food security, housing stability and mental health access. County health rankings for this year ranked Allen County 49th for health outcomes and 28th for health factors out of the state's 92 counties. 

Health outcomes include length and quality of life measuring the number of poor physical or mental health days, the report said. 

Health factors take into consideration the rates of smoking and obesity, socioeconomic factors, educational attainment, violent crime rates, air pollution and housing costs. 

One in 5 children in Allen County, or about 20% under the age of 18, lives in poverty, whereas the state and national percentage is 18.5% from 2015 through 2019 based on U.S. census data, Blakeman said. 

The high poverty rate translates into infants with developmental delays, children lagging behind other students as they enter into kindergarten and later behind in reading ability, the report said. 

Purkey hopes to tackle these problems with new fundraising methods that include accessing federal, state and local funding streams as well as nonprofit organizations. 

Purkey oversaw the formation of an emergency relief fund, and the organization was able to raise $4.8 million in addition to the local workplace campaign in the last 14 months, Purkey said. Figures on the workplace campaign have not been finalized, he added. 

“When I took over, we were 80% reliant on workplace campaigns and now we are 55% reliant, so we've actually grown since the onset of COVID and diversified,” Purkey said.

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