By Jim Rogers
With a number of local arrest reports showing “homeless” and other visually evident signs of poverty’s affect, KSST News has begun an examination of the local poverty rate and its impact in Hopkins County and the communities and cities that comprise the county. Although the following article, the first of several, is not an exhaustive view of poverty, it does cover information that should cause local residents to be concerned for their neighbors and encourage one to become an advocate for better jobs and housing.
Hopkins County’s poverty rate is 19.5%. In a county with a population of 35,844, a median age of 39.2, a median household income of $45,748, and where the population is in slow growth, there are certain concerns that become apparent. The poverty rate in the county places almost 7,000 people below the poverty line and puts the county at a percentage higher than the 14% national average. In the county, 24% of children are living in poverty. However, the largest city, Sulphur Springs, faces an even greater percentage of poverty. The city’s poverty rate is 26.4% among the 15,896 people.
Poverty affects health. In Hopkins County, 21% of those under 65-years of age are uninsured. In a county where 18% of adults report being in fair or poor health, 32% of adults are obese, and 31% of adults are physically inactive, health costs are a constant drain on family budgets. These county numbers exceed both state and national figures. Although the percentage of smokers in Hopkins County, 17%, is on par with the national percentage, the county exceeds the Texas percentage of 14%. Hopkins County Agri-Life Extension has designated health concerns as a primary focus for programming during their next fiscal year.
Food is also an issue. According to Feeding America, 6,540 or 18% of the people in Hopkins County are food insecure. In Sulphur Springs Public Schools, all students below third grade are receiving free breakfast and lunch at school. Students in the remaining grades may be eligible for free meals and families may apply if they meet specific criteria. Other schools in Hopkins County reflect a similar approach.
Several programs provide meals in Hopkins County. Meal-a-Day, operated in and through the Senior Center, Dinner Bell, and a newly opened program sponsored by Color Blind Ministries in Como are among sources for nutrition. At First Baptist’s ROC, meals are available to those who walk in during operating hours. On average, FBC gives out 150 to 200 meals per week to those who are hungry and in need. Toward the end of the month that number grows to 300-400 meals per week. The meal provided by the ROC is a sandwich, chips, cookies and anything else that is donated. Volunteers at the ROC prepare the meals.
Hopkins County Community Chest and the Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry provide food for county residents. Hopkins County now has over 250 senior citizens receiving individually an additional 27 pounds of food each month.
Other services also assist in filling the food need (We will note those in later articles).
One source that provides food to various organizations that feed the hungry in a 13-county service area, which includes Hopkins County, is the North Texas Food Bank. The NTFB is a hunger relief organization that has earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and has a proven record of accomplishment. Focused on providing nutritious food, the program has provided access to more than 190,000 meals for hungry children, seniors, and families in their service area. In the 13-county service area, one of every six people is served. That is over 800,000 persons served due to hunger. The annual household income of 95% of the households served by NTFB is $30,000 or less. Among those served, 60% of the client households report unpaid medical bills and one in three client households are affected by diabetes.
Housing for the homeless and those at or below the poverty line also remains a local problem. There is some low rent or rent subsidized housing units in the City of Sulphur Springs and the County but there are also those who move into unoccupied houses or buildings and establish a tentative residence. Community Chest assists with utility payments or establishing utility service. However, when there is not utility service available to the building or the individual is what is commonly called a “squatter”, there is no availability of funding.
According to Community Chest Executive Director Judy Ann Moore, there are those who have sought assistance from the organization that are living in their vehicle. Those living in their car or other vehicle are not just single individuals or a couple. There are families that are attempting to be accommodated in their car.
The people of Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County rally for programs that seek to meet needs. Recent reaction to Lil’ 4s and to the needs of children and adults undergoing care for cancer or rare diseases are just two examples of compassion. However, there are needs that continue to depend on the development of programs in education, nutrition, and job skills that should also find the attention of those who seek to provide a better-than-subsistence quality of life for local residents.