Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 30, 2012

Reports: County poverty numbers increasing

TAHLEQUAH — The number of people facing serious financial challenges continues to rise in Cherokee County.

A report released recently by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicated that the number of children living in poverty in the state increased by nine percent from 2005-2010.

A year ago, Cherokee County held the third highest poverty rate in Oklahoma, according to the numbers produced by the American Community Survey. Only Latimer, Marshall and Roger Mills counties had higher poverty rates. According to current U.S. Census Bureau statistics for people living below the designated poverty level, Cherokee County has a 26.3 poverty rate, while Latimer, Marshall and Roger Mills counties each had percentage rates under 15 percent.

Adair County’s poverty rate is at 26.5 percent, while Delaware County is at 21.2 percent. The only other neighboring county with a 20-plus percentage poverty rate is Sequoyah County, at 20.9 percent.

“The phone pretty much rings off the wall all day long with people who are needing utility assistance, help with rental payments, food, gasoline to be able to make doctor appointments and for other various reasons,” said Hope House Executive Director Laura Garner. “We’ve been busy, and unfortunately the need is higher than the funds available.”

Area shelters like Hope House, which provides services for families or women with children, and Project O-Si-Yo, which offers living assistance to men, stay at full capacity due to the many people experiencing effects from a bad economy or other circumstances.

“We’ve had about 450 people come through here in the five years that we’ve been here,” said Project O-Si-Yo co-manager Dave Stickels. “That comes out to about 90 people a year. That’s a lot of people. Some stay a couple of days. Some stay a couple of months. Some are here longer. We’ve got somebody who’s been here over a year. The individuals vary.”

Garner said another recent development is people are coming into the county from other areas of Oklahoma or even outside the state.

“We’ve been getting a lot more calls in past weeks from outside the county, because we’re the capital of the Cherokee Nation,” she said. “We get calls from people out of the state. They think that when they walk into the Cherokee Nation that everything is going to fall directly into place. It does take a long time. They will have depleted their resources, and then will be faced with a need for a place to stay or food. We’re also getting calls from Tulsa, because the shelters are full up there, and they’re referring them here. That’s something that’s has come up a little bit more over the last month or so. All the way around, the numbers are rising.”

The area shelters are not meant to be a source of permanent support for those who seek services. Helping each person who walks in the door reconnect with society to re-establish self-sufficiency is the goal, said Stickels.

“You’re suppose to go out and look [for a job] everyday,” he said. “I’ve been here since October. I started out just like everybody else. I got here because my wife and I had problems. I was without work, and I don’t have family around here. I needed a place to go, so I came here. So now I’ve taken on some responsibilities to help run this place.”

Garner and Stickels both pointed out their respective sites are always in need of monetary and other forms of support to help sustain services.

“It’s a non-stop need,” said Garner. “Unfortunately, we’ve had people lined up waiting for applications for utility and rental assistance. There’s been a quite an increase this year. It’s like an [annual] thing until we get a turn around in the economy, but it’s not going to happen soon. [The recession] has really hit here in the last couple of years.”

Stickels said Project O-Si-Yo was able to raise $2,000 recently through a pancake brunch and $400 was earned through two yard sales, but more funding is needed.

“Things are hairy now,” he said. “We’re trying to get the community behind us. We do have a lot of individuals who come by and donate clothes or food. We had Channel 8 news come in, and they did a story on us that broadcasted [the night of July 20]. It was the lead story and we got no response. We told people that we needed help here, that we’re in desperate need and that we’re probably going to end up closing by the end of July. We got very little response. Two people made monetary donations. We brought in some more clothes, but we only had two people respond in a monetary way.”

Stickels emphasized that the site managers or Project O-Si-Yo Director of Operations Tom Lewis do not draw salaries for duties performed in operating and managing the shelter.

“We’re trying to get the community behind us,” said Stickels. “We don’t get monetary incentives. We don’t get anything out of it. Tom Lewis, the CEO, he donates his time. Everybody here has a chore. Everybody helps out, like with the community garden. We donated stuff to Help-in-Crisis, the CARE Food Pantry and Hope House. We’ve tried to give back.”

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