While the recession continues to increase its number of casualties, the new faces of poverty in the region include the Black middle class, the elderly and youth.

Ron Moten, 41, cofounder of Peacoholics, said needy, desperate and homeless youth have been around for over a decade. “They just didn’t come under the radar until now,” he said.

When it comes to differences across class, it was expected that those who were in the lower class would remain poor. However, nonprofits and government agencies are saying urgent calls for financial assistance now come from individuals who have lost their jobs or homes that are accustomed to a lifestyle of comfort, even luxury.

Tanya Robinson, 54, was a successful real estate saleswoman until the market hit at an all time low.

Accustomed to the middle-class lifestyle, she lost her northwest Washington, D.C. home and the business. Unable to find work that could accommodate her lifestyle, eventually, Robinson became homeless. Too proud to sleep in shelters, Robinson adapted to a life of sleeping in abandoned homes and park benches, yet she still gets her nails and hair done regularly.

“Do you know what it’s like to lose everything you own?” Robinson asked. “Most of my family members are struggling themselves and didn’t have room for me to stay with them. So I’m out in the street trying to make it,” she added.

Unable to cope with her losses, Robinson slipped into a state of deep depression and began to self medicate herself by taking illegal drugs.

Lewis Davis, 43, senior state director of communications at AARP, said according to the Capital Area Food Bank, one in three District seniors are at risk of or suffering from hunger. “That is a strong indicator of poverty in the D.C. area,” stated Davis.

AARP states there are many factors contributing to poverty among seniors including the rising cost of prescription drugs, Medicare premiums, no increase in Social Security benefits and the recession.

“It comes as no great surprise that these factors are contributing to poverty among people age 65+ in the District and nationwide,” stated Davis.

Gracie Rollins, 73, director of CHANGE, Inc. in northwest Washington, said stories like Robinson’s have become common in the last two years.

“Many of our new clients are degreed with tremendous experiences that are being pushed out of jobs because of age,” said Rollins. “First someone tells you how they made $90,000 yearly. Next they humble themselves telling stories of how everything has hit rock bottom. No health insurance, no home, without job…they are not poor but desperate. They need help and lots of it.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently reported that in November the unemployment level for persons with bachelor’s degrees or higher rose 5 percent.

Jason Perkins-Cohen, executive director of the Jobs Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore concurred, saying the new faces looking for jobs are highly skilled with significant work history. “Many highly skilled people are being pushed into poverty or near poverty,” said Perkins-Cohen. “We must invest in adults, retrain our workforce and provide the next generation of workers with the necessary skills and education to compete.”

Prince George’s County, one of the richest Black counties in America, provides one of the best pictures of the dying Black middle class.

“With thousands of foreclosures, it has become quite common for people who were once homeowners to come to live in our shelters with their families. They have absolutely no where else to turn,” said Josephine Brownell, 38, shelter manager at Shepherd’s Cove located in Capitol Heights, Md., the only homeless shelter in the county for families. “With the rate of homelessness growing, we need more shelters to open across the county, more funding for expansion and job training centers,” explained Brownell.

Adding to the needy are the influx of undocumented immigrants, primarily Latino, needing financial assistance said CHANGE officials. “Without proper documentation, by law, we can only give them food, clothing and referrals for other services,” Rollins said.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO