Cecelia Mason Published

Forum will address poverty issues


This is National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week, when the National Coalition for the Homeless and other advocacy organizations hope the country will focus on issues surrounding poverty. The United Way of the Eastern Panhandle is doing just that Thursday evening during a public forum.

During the forum “Poverty in the Panhandle: Children at Risk,”  the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, Family Resource Network and Health and Human Services Collaborative hope to discuss the problem and come up with possible solutions.

Del. Tiffany Lawrence (D-Jefferson) has been working with State Sen. John Unger (D-Berkeley) to address child poverty. Lawrence said there’s a perception that the Eastern Panhandle doesn’t have much of a problem because it’s a bedroom community of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

“We often hear and that our socioeconomic status is elevated for some reason or another,” Lawrence said. “But truly that’s not the case in all parts of the Panhandle and we do see children and also adults and families really suffering from a lack of stability.”

During the forum there will be group discussions with a goal of coming up with a plan to address the problem. Sharon Awkard, director of community impact with the United Way, hopes the forum will lead to a heightened awareness of how poverty affects the community.

“If people are constantly living in poverty they may have no job, they could become incarcerated, they can move totally out of the area,” Awkard said. “So poverty affects the entire community and we cannot constantly go on and put it on the back burner.”

“This is something that’s real and this is something that we can tackle and this is something that we can do something about,” she added.

The forum will feature a viewing of the PBS documentary Poor Kids and a preview of a West Virginia Public Broadcasting documentary that will focus on child poverty within the state.

It runs from 5:30-8 p.m. at the WVU Health Sciences Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. with registration beginning at 5 p.m.