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Central Ohio Families Survive Extreme Poverty

The number of Central Ohio families living in extreme poverty continues to climb. One in five Columbus-area children lives in extreme poverty. That means their family makes at most $11,000 dollars a year. WOSU tells the stories of three women who have to support their families on about a thousand dollars a month. Kewonna Roberts is from the city’s East Side. She’s updating some paperwork at a food pantry on South Champion Avenue. Roberts is a single mom with four children. She works as a part-time medical assistant. She makes only $1,300 a month. "I talk to my kids a lot, and I tell them we’re very fortunate to have places like to come to because a lot of people can’t eat right now," she said. Whether Roberts realizes it, she and her children live in extreme poverty. Her bills get paid,"by the grace of God," she said. "You know, we stretch our dollars and budgeting well. They get paid, sometimes they’re a little delayed, but they get paid.â€? Sometimes it gets really tough. “There have been times where all I had was cereal. We eat cereal two or three weeks at a time. But we were fed and we were nourished. It just goes that way sometimes," Roberts said. But the food pantry helps fill the gap her paycheck cannot. The South Champion food pantry provides enough food for about three days. “If you know how to mix and match then you can make it last a little longer than that," Donita Roselle is from Canal Winchester said. Roselle is a single mom who takes care of two girls. She’s a cab driver and makes about $16,000 a year. Like Roberts, Roselle lives below the federal poverty level. She comes to the food pantry a couple of times a month. “You know, to hold you over until the next time you come. Or you run into some extra money from your check, it can hold you over until you get to go to the grocery store," Roselle said. Like most people, Roselle has rent to pay, a car payment, utilities. She scrapes by. “Oh, my ends aren’t meeting, they’re waving at eat other. They never meet, you know. One month I’ll pay the electric. The next month I’ll pay the gas, but I can never pay both of them in the same month. So stuff stays on it’s just by the hair of my chiny-chin-chin. I just, I work it out the best way I can," Roselle said. Both Roselle and Roberts have high school diplomas which gives them a slight edge if they need to find work. Roberts is working towards her Associate’s Degree. Cheryl Brewer directs family services for the Homeless Families Foundation. The agency provides temporary housing and other assistance while permanent housing is established. Most clients, Brewer said, need help finding work and many have little or no education and battle addictions or mental illnesses. “Sometimes it is the case where they don’t have the educational background. So we try to work on every barrier that we can. But that main barrier usually is unemployment," Brewer said. Kia Ellis is one of those people recovering from drugs and alcohol. Ellis, who’s a single mom, also struggled with math in high school. She did not graduate. And she’s been unable to pass the GED test. “No one’s willing to hire you if you don’t have education. So I have to do mediocre jobs. I can go waitress somewhere, but that’s no good money either because as soon as I get it it’s gone. I am currently on welfare," she said. Ellis selects a sofa and love seat from the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio. The agency helps furnish homes for people who are, in a sense, starting over. Ellis and son, who’s almost two, were living at the Homeless Families Foundation. After paying rent she has $115 left over, plus $300 in food stamps. She’ll get some assistance with her utilities. “I probably have a dollar in my pocket right now," Ellis said. If it weren't for a free bus pass Ellis would have a difficult time getting around. But despite all of the challenges, she remains positive. “Now that I have my apartment, the next step is to go to school get my GED," she said. Ellis wants to get certified as an LPN, maybe one day become a nurse. Cheryl Brewer with the Homeless Families Foundation says these stories are common. And unlike homelessness, Brewer says, poverty for many people will not be temporary. So the goal, she said, is to connect people with the resources they need to survive.