Mayor News

Office of the Mayor - February 13, 2017

The Winston-Salem Poverty Thought Force delivered to Mayor Allen Joines and the City Council today its final report, which includes 56 recommendations for policies that could reduce the poverty level in Winston-Salem.

The 60-page report also advocates designating a “poverty czar” who would coordinate current anti-poverty programs in the community and help implement new ones; and it lists nine national initiatives, such as the Purpose Built Communities Network and the GE Healthy Cities program, that could help the city in its push to reduce the poverty rate.

In receiving the report, Joines praised the 22 members of the Thought Force for their thorough and conscientious effort. 

“On behalf of all the citizens of Winston-Salem, I would like to thank Rogan Kersh, the chairman of the Thought Force, and all its members for the many hours they spent over the past 15 months tackling this difficult issue,” Joines said. “They have given our community a detailed road map to move ahead, and I look forward to seeing how we can use it to improve the lives of everyone in our community who is living in poverty.”

Joines, along with Council Member Derwin Montgomery  and Kersh, the provost of Wake Forest University, announced the formation of the Poverty Thought Force in October 2015 with the task of coming up with recommendations for reducing poverty that would be both impactful and feasible.

Joines resolved to address the issue when statistics for 2014 showed that more than 24 percent of the city’s residents lived in poverty, based on household income. This gave Winston-Salem the highest poverty rate among North Carolina’s five largest cities. But even this rate was a drop from a peak of almost 27 percent in 2013.

In 2015 the city’s poverty rate continued to inch down, to 23 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the trend is encouraging, it does not lessen the need to implement a program to reduce poverty, Montgomery said. “Poverty is an issue that affects everyone in Winston-Salem, either directly or indirectly through the cost of our social safety net programs,” he said. “When we help the economically challenged in our communities climb out of poverty, we help ourselves, as well.”

The Thought Force, comprising a broad selection of civic and academic leaders, concentrated on five aspects of poverty: education and life skills, health and wellness, jobs and workforce development, housing and homelessness, and hunger and food insecurity. For each area, they held a “world café” to solicit ideas from the public. These events generated hundreds of ideas. The Thought Force also sought advice from regional and national experts on poverty, conducted surveys to get feedback on ideas, and engaged Forsyth Futures to provide a detailed analysis of the risk factors for, and the outcomes of, poverty in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

Based on all of this, the Thought Force came up with an initial list of about 60 policy recommendations for these five areas. This initial list was then vetted in a sixth world café attended by people personally familiar with the rigors of living in poverty. As Thought Force member Keisha Wisley said, “The best test of whether an idea might work is to ask the people it is intended to help.”

After this sixth world café, the Thought Force came up with its final list of 56 recommendations. Given this process, Kersh stressed that these recommendations, are, in fact, the community’s recommendations. “Poverty experts tell us that local solutions are the most likely to make a difference,” Kersh said. “With that in mind, we were very intentional about ensuring extensive public input at every stage of our work.”

The report will be presented to the City Council’s Finance Committee today at 4 p.m. and to the council’s Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Both meetings will be in Room 239 of City Hall, 101 N. Main St., Winston-Salem.

The complete text of the report is posted at PovertyThoughtForce.com.

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