A new report from the John R. Oishei Foundation and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute finds poverty on the rise across Buffalo Niagara, but many success stories as well. "Numbers in Need" revisits 12 communities that were profiled years ago, to see how residents living in or near poverty and the many service providers who work with them are faring.
"It shows just having a strong, growing economy is not the only solution to poverty. There's not one answer. There's not a simple solution," said Sharon Entress, senior policy associate at UB's Regional Institute, talking about "Numbers in Need."
The new report contains a wealth of information, gathered from more than 3,000 residents and service providers. It also helps position Buffalo Niagara for the future, especially post-pandemic.
Entress said the report revisits the same 12 communities where Oishei and UB had dispatched Mobile Safety Net Teams to help identify barriers and opportunities.
"We picked those 12 communities because they were communities where poverty is concentrated or, at the time, poverty was actually growing," she said. "Together, those communities represent over half of individuals living in or near poverty across the region."
This time, researchers found nearly 338,000 people in Erie and Niagara counties live on incomes 200% below the poverty line. That is one-third of the region's population and a 5% increase in poverty since 2011.
More than 50,000 are children under 18 years old. And yes, poverty hits hardest in urban neighborhoods, like in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, but also persists in suburban and rural areas.
The Town of Tonawanda, for example, is no longer full of children. It is older today and many residents live on a fixed income. One large expense, like a new roof or car, can take a serious toll.
Many working at Lockport's Harrison Radiator plant used to live in Newstead. But when the good-paying manufacturing jobs dwindled, so did the community.
"Some communities are going to be more impacted by some issues than others, but I can say, you can pick any community - whether it's urban, suburban or rural - and identify a whole host of issues," said Larry Cook, vice president and program officer at Oishei.
Cook said among the concerns outlined in the report are also strategies that have led to solutions.
"As an example, on the East Side, a lot of concern came out about transportation and getting access to healthy food," he said. "How that manifested itself was in what's called the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, where there's been a coalition of corner stores working with a variety of service providers to not only put health food options in these corner stores where people can have access to them in a food desert, but also as a wraparound approach, providing other types of services to help people become healthier overall."
Cook said Oishei funded the initial Mobile Safety Net Teams that have sparked these kinds of grassroots efforts. "Numbers in Need" can be used as a tool for long-term sustainable change and adapted to a community's unique needs.
"I think what we see is, once a good, strong idea is developed, other entities want to invest in it," Cook said. "So prime example, with the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, they first got a significant grant from United Way in partnership with General Mills and then they got a follow-up grant from BlueCross/BlueShield."
"We really wanted to identify those models, those initiatives, that are working, that are seeing early success, that could potentially be ramped up, and then could potentially benefit communities beyond the 12 that they're being implemented in," said Entress. "If others were aware of them and maybe implement something tailored to the needs and the population in their own community, that would be great."