Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

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The Face of Poverty in Northern Michigan

Robert Downes - February 19th, 2004
To be poor in Northern Michigan often means being hidden in plain sight. Thanks to organizations such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army, we don‘t have poverty-stricken people walking around in rags, as is the case in less fortunate countries. Even the poorest among us can manage to keep up appearances.
But beneath the surface, it‘s not hard to find some very sad cases at agencies such as Father Fred‘s Foundation and the Community Health Center in Traverse City, or at the Manna Project in Petoskey.
Janet Day is one such woman, locked in a desperate struggle with bills and health problems on a limited income. Janet was one of the featured speakers via a video link at a recent Poverty in Our Midst summit meeting in Traverse City.
A 71-year-old grandmother, Janet is a Traverse City native and a veteran of the Korean War. She presently lives in a mobile home with five other people, including two elementary school-aged children whom she is raising. Janet is disabled, and her income totals just $1,095 per month, or a little more than $13,000 per year. Consider that the government‘s definition of poverty for a family of three comes to just $13,290 per year, and you can see that Janet is struggling below even that level.
Of the $1,095 she receives per month, each dollar must be carefully accounted for and worried over to meet the $1,042 she has in bills. “It‘s awfully hard because the bills keep going up, but my income doesn‘t,“ she said. “The kids say, ‘Why can‘t we go to a movie or the mall?‘ And I have to tell them, honey, I just don‘t have the money. It hurts, it really hurts. Since I can‘t work and I‘m disabled, the bills are paid and the lights are on, but I can‘t afford anything extra.“
What‘s missing from this story is the painful look on Janet‘s face and her voice quivering with emotion as she spelled out the calculus of what it means to be desperately poor in Northern Michigan.
And she is hardly alone, because as noted at the summit, single female heads of households are three times as likely to be living in poverty here, followed by men raising children.
There were plenty of statistics on poverty at the summit, which was attended by 250 representatives of help agencies from around the region. In a five-county area here, some 10,493 people were living at the poverty level as of the 2000 census -- close to 7% of Northern Michigan‘s population. That means living on an income of less than $17,029 for a family of four, or less than $8,501 for a single person.
Those problems are exacerbated as our country drifts deeper into the so-called jobless economic recovery.
Dr. Carl Benner, M.D., director of the Community Health Clinic, noted that there is now a three-week waiting list to get in the clinic for free or low-cost health care, and that many patients are being turned away from private medical practices in town because of their inability to pay. The health care crisis is especially grave in the lack of dental services for the poor, because although physicians have formed a Grand Traverse Regional Healthcare Coalition to try to fill the gap in medical care, there are no low-cost or free dental services available and Medicaid recently ditched its dental benefit. If you have an abscessed tooth and you‘re broke, your only recourse may be to take an emergency room antibiotic until you can raise the funds to get help.
“We‘re one of the richest countries in the world, but the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee health care for its citizens,“ Dr. Benner said, adding that the current level of 43.6 million Americans without health insurance is expected to rise to 60 million by 2010.
The summit brimmed with similar unhappy statistics on housing costs, homelessness, the loss of 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the region since 2000, and families of the working poor who‘ve had the rug pulled out from under them. On the bright side, Jim Wiesing of the Michigan State University Extension pointed out that poverty in America tends to be a fluid, transitional thing, influenced by temporary factors such as divorce, childrearing and unemployment.
Those who attended the summit were invited with the goal of reducing poverty in the region by 25% by 2010. At first that struck me as rather fanciful and utopian thinking. We don‘t live in a closed, static system like a fish tank, after all. There will always be factors such as more poor persons moving into the region and downturns in the national economy to waylay the best-laid plans. More likely, Traverse City and Petoskey will “solve“ poverty the same way Boulder, Colorado has with its urban growth boundaries -- property rates will rise so high that only the wealthy will be able to live here, with the poor stuck in trailer parks many miles out of town.
That‘s one scenario. On the other hand, it could well be that today‘s middle class will increasingly move in the direction of what‘s called the working poor -- a condition most Americans knew very well when our country launched the so-called War on Poverty in the 1960s. The War on Poverty has subsquently been pooh-poohed as a failure by the wealthy end of the political strata, even though its many initiatives such as Head Start, school lunch programs, HUD, student aid, affirmative action and the like lifted millions of Americans out of malnutrition and into college and their first homes.
Perhaps we‘ll all be poorer soon, renewing a more caring and thoughtful political philosphy in our country which will promote universal health care and higher education rather than the selfish “me first“ attitudes which have been so prevalent over the past 20 years. Misery loves company, after all. Perhaps the poverty summit in Traverse City is the renewal of that way of thinking, right here close to home.
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