As our series “Living on the Edge” makes clear, there are many families here still living below or just above poverty – earning enough to get by, if they're lucky, but one major expense away from a crisis. Four in 10 families may still struggle to afford quality child care, put food on the table or ensure they have a place to live.
Even if your family is insulated from the challenges, your community is not. When adults struggle just to make the rent or pay for car repairs, they may be less able to get more training and better jobs in order to climb above the economic danger zone.
This is a kind of stress no one needs, but children, especially, may pay the price. When they suffer or fall short of their potential today, they are set up to become struggling adults in the future. Health and social problems our community wrestles with likely intensify – drug addiction, diabetes, mental illness, crime. It's no way for an aspiring world-class city to make progress.
Our reporters found plenty of reasons for hope. There are organizations and safety nets just a phone call away – at United Way's 211 help line, for instance – and legions of public, private and volunteer workers trying to give struggling families chances to succeed.
There are waiting lists for housing, but private agencies such as Vincent House/Vincent Village as well as the Fort Wayne Housing Authority and the Housing and Neighborhood Services Department are working to whittle those lists down, and several of the new downtown developments are including units that could be affordable for low-income families.
Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana and the Associated Churches food distribution network struggle against the perception that everything is OK now.
Donations are down, but Katie Savoie said 12.9 percent of those in Community Harvest's nine-county service area are “food insecure” despite the improving economy. The Boys and Girls Club of Fort Wayne takes the lead on helping young people get nutritious meals as well as other resources to succeed in school and avoid future health problems.
Those community organizations and others on the front lines deserve your support. Many need volunteers; nonprofit agencies need donations. Beyond that, we need to practice and encourage compassion and understanding. In these penny-wise times, it's too easy for public officials to cut social programs and health coverage pound-foolishly without considering the impact on those who are barely getting by.
The ultimate goal should be not just to address those needs but to overcome them. The ambitious plans for improving our city should help, in the long run, by attracting and retaining more good jobs. But a city can't achieve a better “quality of life” if some fear for the basics of life. As we move forward, we must remember not to leave anyone behind.