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Syracuse's Greater HOPE to End Concentrated Poverty

            Thursday, April 6th, marked the second summit for the anti-poverty coalition known as “Greater Syracuse HOPE.” The coalition was identified at the ACTS Leadership Council Meeting in March as an “integral ally” in the fight against concentrated poverty. This strain of suffering is particularly cancerous in Syracuse. One of every two children lives under the poverty line in our Metropolitan area, which was ranked as the 29th poorest in the nation by the U.S. Census Bureau. HOPE plans to utilize funding from Governor Cuomo’s “Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative,” introduced in his 2016 agenda. The available funds equal approximately $3 million for Syracuse. A chief objective of the Summit on April 6th was to construct an “action plan” to qualify for these funds. ACTS Interim Executive Director Rev. Craig French praised the Summit’s “high level of engagement,” and announced another HOPE meeting slated for later this Spring.

            The spirit of Greater Syracuse HOPE is discernible from its acronym of Healing, Opportunity, Prosperity, and Engagement, and through its mission to eradicate the fundamental issues of impoverishment. HOPE was formed in 2016 by grassroots community leaders and non-profit organizations in response to Syracuse’s stark poverty. Much like ACTS, HOPE uses social justice to address the deep structural issues which spawn poverty, rather than simply amending “surface wounds” through charity. Such deep structural issues include disproportionate poverty among minority populations, inadequate or unsafe housing, lack of job opportunities, high unemployment, underperforming schools, and neighborhood violence. Hope’s holistic approach was expressed as critical by Syracuse Common Councilor Helen Hudson,

            “Poverty is too big of an issue to be attacked by any one organization,” she said. This philosophy galvanized HOPE from its beginnings. The coalition drew its members and activists from those already fighting in the trenches against Syracuse’s most notorious adversary. HOPE has already contributed to positive results in our community.  


             The Literacy Coaltion of Onondaga County, named a “pacesetter” by the national campaign for Grade-Level Reading, recognized HOPE as one of the allies that made literacy progress possible in Syracuse. The Literacy Coalition’s Executive Director, Virginia Carmody, celebrated the “indisputable momentum” that has been built to combat poverty through education and literacy. Carmody noted the importance of HOPE’s assistance, which included addressing issues of public housing, children’s health, and the collection of data that drives literacy programs. Through its commendable record, HOPE presented itself as an ideal ally to ACTS. The Summit on April 6th was a demonstration of the coalition’s dedication to strategy, compassion, and the will to transform Syracuse.


            “How did last night’s session go?” said Rev. French, in response to the summit, “Even better than I expected. We got down to brass tacks and worked on actual plans.”

             The “brass tacks” featured an interactive session which split participants into 11 different work groups. Each  group was tasked with generating ideas for an “action plan."

             Much like ACTS, HOPE delegates responsibilities to committees. Similarly, the Summit’s interactive session charged the 11 work groups with different target areas. Examples of these target areas include education, economics, housing, and health. Each target area was accompanied by indicators of effective progress, all of which were compiled at the previous Summit in August 2016. Homeownership and unemployment rates were two examples of these 11 indicators. Finding solutions for these diverse issues required diverse perspectives. 

             “At my table there were three young people now settled in Syracuse from other countries,” said Peter Knoblock, a leader within ACTS, “Their personal experiences and contributions were incredibly helpful. I am reminded once again of how helpful it could be for ACTS to proactively seek input from our members.”

            HOPE’s Executive Committee must now compile all the brainstorms into an action proposal. That action proposal will be sent to Albany to qualify for funds from Governor Cuomo’s “Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative.” The initiative, introduced in 2016, was explained in detail at the summit.


          The “Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative” (hereafter referred to as the “Empire Initiative”), is a robust anti-poverty program. The program wields $25 million in funding, and is designed to “promote public-private 

partnerships to increase economic mobility for all New Yorkers.” Modeled after the “Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force,” the “Empire Initiative” intends to coordinate solutions between state and local governments, businesses, and non-profits across 10 Upstate New York communities.

             “Every New Yorker deserves a shot at the American Dream” said Cuomo in regards to the initiative. 


            The “Empire Initiative” distributes $500,000 block grants. Additionally, access to a $20 million grant pool is provided to match funding supplied by foundations and private-sector groups


            As one would expect, the selection process is rigorous. Recipients of the grants and those with funding pool access are chosen through a nationally implemented “Community Needs Assessment.” These assessments are essential cogs of New York State’s “anti-poverty network,” created by Cuomo’s initiative. With such meticulous standards, the organizing of the April 6th HOPE summit was necessary not only for Greater Syracuse Hope, but for all non-profits including ACTS. Acquisition of that $3 million requires that we combine our power together. And those funds must be acquired to effectively combat concentrated poverty.


           “Syracuse needs help from the State and Federal government as part of a long-term plan to address this problem,” stated Mayor Stephanie Miner to


            The “Empire Initiative” chose ten communities across Upstate New York for participation in the program, with selection based on their rates of poverty. The first on the list was, you guessed it, Syracuse.

Concentrated Poverty, a characteristic problem for our community, means we have poor neighborhoods surrounded by more neighborhoods of equally deep poverty. The severity of this poverty is bolstered by its stubbornness. In 2015, 31% of Syracuse residents lived below the poverty line, which equated to 40,500 people. Additionally, only 55% of working age people have jobs. These trends have remained static since at least 2009, when the Census Bureau posted the almost the same percentages. The number of suffering neighborhoods has also increased. Census Tracts, the unit used to label neighborhoods, revealed a jump of 9 to 30 impoverished Syracuse neighborhoods since the year 2000.


             Thankfully, a growing resolve is amassing in Syracuse to end this calamity. The Allyn Foundation plans to triple its assets to 100 million in the coming years, working within a tight focus to combat poverty. The Consensus report also lists deep poverty as one of its many justifications for radical government consolidation. Finally, ACTS and Greater Syracuse HOPE may unite their resources to address the fundamental ills of our region. With this combined will, we may see the end of concentrated poverty as we know it. ACTS Members are encouraged to attend the next HOPE meeting in late Spring.

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