Tour reveals problems with food access

mhankerson@newsobserver.comNovember 22, 2013 

  • Need help?

    For information about applying for assistance, visit the Eastern Regional Center online at wakegov.com/humanservices/locations/erc or visit in person at 1002 Dogwood Drive, Zebulon.

— At the second stop of their Listening Tour, Wake County commissioners and staff members told eastern Wake residents they are doing their best to keep up with the needs of the county, specifically in the east, where residents said people are going hungry because of a lapse in timely government assistance and lack of resources.

Joe Bryan, the chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, who represents eastern Wake County, said the first stop shed light on residents’ worries about human services. Changes in policies, how to apply and eligibility were all discussed at the first stop, held in Raleigh.

In Knightdale, deputy county manager Joe Durham presented information about the NC FAST program, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, energy assistance programs and the county’s Middle Class Express program, but the residents of eastern Wake County wanted to address more pressing issues, like food availability.

Bryan said Wake County has a 12 percent poverty rate.

“Most counties would love to have that, (but) it’s still 100,000 people dealing with poverty,” Bryan said.

The county said the Swinburne Building in Raleigh, which is where residents can go to receive health and human services benefits, is often overwhelmed. They’ve hired temporary staff to help through the colder months, when energy assistance programs often have residents lining up outside starting at 4 a.m.

Eastern Regional Center Director Darryl Blevins said the effects felt in Raleigh are the same in the eastern part of the county.

“People are losing patience,” Blevins said. “The poverty concentration in the east is huge.”

According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, which uses small samples in towns and cities to provide statistics in between Census years, about 20 percent of families in Zebulon live at or below the poverty line. In Wendell, about 15 percent of families are at that line.

In Knightdale, only about 4 percent of families live at or below the poverty line. In Raleigh, it’s about 10 percent.

‘People are going without food’

Commissioners acknowledged the NC FAST program has a backlog of cases, making some county residents wait up to 90 days before being able to receive benefits.

In eastern Wake County, that often translates into families going without food, Blevins told commissioners.

“Food stamps case loads are huge,” he said. “People are going without food, it’s just a huge issue for us.”

Blevins said private organizations have stepped up in the community to help with food access, but the Regional Center has also had to change the way they operate to try to accommodate residents.

Some staffers at the Eastern Regional Center are working extended hours. They’ve enlisted the help of local food pantries and faith-based organizations to help fulfill residents’ basic needs.

Even so, it’s not enough, Blevins said.

“The demand is far exceeding what our capacities are. We do what we can,” he said. “I’m not going to say we service every family that comes in (to the regional center). We can’t.”

Durham told residents of eastern Wake County their concerns are not unheard and that resources across the county are scarce. By hiring more staff and giving residents multiple avenues to seek assistance, the county hopes to alleviate the long wait times and the stress on regional centers.

The Listening Tour is meant to be an opportunity for county staff and commissioners to hear citizens’ concerns. In addition to Blevins’ statements about food access, citizens had comments about small business opportunities through the county’s Middle Class Express program, funding for children’s programs and questions about the postal system.

Knightdale’s stop was the second stop on the county’s Listening Tour. The county plans to continue the tour with monthly stops.

 

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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