Columbus’ Big Problem Is…

    Poverty.

Rev. Kim Jenkins, Executive Director of Open Door Community House

Rev. Kim Jenkins, Executive Director of Open Door Community House

  Rev. Kim Jenkins sees it up close and personal everyday. She is a Baptist minister who administers the Open Door Community House in Columbus, which is backed by the United Methodist Church.  She told me of a lady who admitted she had committed substance abuse. She said the woman said, “I have to get off the street. It’s just getting too dangerous out there. Violence is increasing; drug abuse is increasing. Please help me.” Rev. Jenkins said she started making calls and found a church that was willing to help her.  Rose Hill United Methodist helped her get a job.

  That is not always the case. She told me of one lady who came in shaking as she said that she was on crack and had lost her children who were all in state custody. She wanted shelter. Open Door was full. It only has 12 beds, all for women.  Rev. Jenkins called other shelters in Columbus, Macon and Atlanta. Nobody would take her either because she was on crack and they didn’t have medical facilities to deal with that.  Jenkins said she had to tell her, “There is nothing we can do for you.”

Guy Sims, Co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area

Guy Sims, Co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area

  And just how bad is the poverty problem in Columbus? Former Muscogee County School District Superintedent Guy Sims told me that the rate is 27 percent, which, he said, “is a lot higher than the national average.”    Sims, who is in between jobs now that Beacon University is shutting down, is a co-chair of Building Prosperity in the Muscogee County Area. His co-chairs are James Blanchard and Betsy Covington. They, along with about 40 other business and professional leaders, are working to develop a plan to do something about the problem.

  It took a little while to get Columbus leaders involved. They just sort of left coping with the problem up to service providers, places like the Salvation Army, Valley Rescue Mission,  House of Mercy, and Open Door. That changed three years ago when the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institue of Government issued a report showing poverty was the Chattahoochee Valley’s number one problem. She said that opened a lot of eyes and at least “the conversation started.” 

  Guy Sims, says, if anything, he is sure it is worse now, citing the worsening economy as a primary reason. And Jenkins says the demand for services at Open Door has increased this year and she is sure it is happening at the other shelters and sevice providers in the area. Many more people are seeking shelter than are getting it.  There are 2 thousand homeless people in Columbus.

  A banker told Jenkins four years ago that the mortgage crisis was coming and the homeless population would be increasing. That’s right, a Columbus banker saw the collapse in the home mortgage industry coming four years ago.

  Why should we care about the homeless, the working poor, shelters that are full and can’t possibly keep up with the increasing demand? After all, shouldn’t every tub stand on its own bottom?  Shouldn’t people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? 

  Well, says Rev. Jenkins, besides the moral and biblical reasons for caring, self-interest should make us care. Poverty causes crime rates to go up and all of us have to pay for fighting crime. It costs us more when we go to the hospital because the hospitals have to charge us more to pay for all of those people that are converging on emergency rooms. Emergency room care is extremely expensive.

  A report by Building Prosperity points out that if everyone over 25 in our area got a high school diploma, that would increase wages enough to add $168 million to the economy.

  If they got college degrees, we are talking $692 million.

  If the weekly wage rate in Columbus ($564) were brought up to the state average ($669) $10 million would be added to the local economy every week.

  So there are practical reasons to care even if you are hard hearted.  Fortunately, not everyone in Columbus believes in practicing social Darwinism.

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One Response to “Columbus’ Big Problem Is…”

  1. Richard Says:

    Whew! I thought someone had complained to you about my driving. :–>

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