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Report: Poverty increasing rapidly in Austin suburbs

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A sobering new report was issued Monday that may have you looking at your neighbor in a completely different way.

According to the Brookings Institute, the suburbs have become a new battleground in the war against poverty.

At the LBJ Library you can learn about President Johnson's dream of the great society and his war on poverty.

The report issued Monday is a warning that the safety net designed to address poverty in urban centers and rural areas is in need of a major refocus.

Every day the poor and needy gather along the corner of 7th Street and Red River. They are here to get shelter, food and counseling services from several different humanitarian agencies. Some appear stuck in this way of life- but there are many others like Jeb Meredith who is trying to rebuild a broken life.

"After having everything and losing everything all in one fall, swoop, it's you know kind of hard to get back," said Meredith.

Meredith is just one face of poverty and a downtown street corner in Austin is not the only dwelling spot for it. Look beyond the manicured lawns of suburbia and you will also find the poor.

Researchers with the Brookings Institution released this report that challenges the mindset that poverty is strictly an urban problem.

The Austin profile shows that not only has the number of poor grown to a quarter of a million when compared to the population in 1970 but an urban - suburban shift is underway.

Within the past decade the rate of poverty in the suburbs has increased faster than the urban core.

Another indicator of what's taking place in metro Austin is the percentage of change in the number of students who receive free and reduced priced lunches.

Can't see the trees for the forest comes to mind. Typically when you talk about the poor in Suburbia you're dealing with a limited number of classifications like the elderly, families dealing with a medical crisis or what's commonly referred to as the working poor.

"No surprise, over the past four years we've seen our numbers increase 25 percent to 30 percent," Sherry McDonnell of Hill Country Community Ministries said.

McDonnell is with the Hill Country Community Ministries. The small non-profit has a big job keeping its store rooms full.

The organization provides food, clothing and other assistance to about 500 families every month. While the client list has grown, the caseload profile also started to change during the great recession.

"We've had accountants and engineers and people who have used up all of their savings, 401K's and literally had no place else to turn. We've had people come in here just devastated and embarrassed quite frankly to have to ask for help," McDonnell said.

In their suburban war on poverty, organizations like Hill Country Community Ministries are struggling to keep pace.

The new report from Brookings is an attempt to get planners to recognize that resources can no longer be spent only in urban centers but refocused to address a broader regional problem.

Link to Austin Profile

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