Service providers, academics and politicians gathered in Dunleavy Hall on Niagara University’s Lewiston campus to discuss an issue that affects many people in Niagara County: poverty.
The university’s Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement hosted more than 140 participants at the second annual poverty conference Friday where a wide range of topics – barriers to employment, public policy and strategies for bringing about change – were discussed by people who deal with society’s most vulnerable people on a daily basis.
Robert Gioia is the president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, the largest private philanthropic organization in Western New York. As keynote speaker for the event, Gioia described the many challenges that face our region’s poor, citing reports produced by the foundation on Niagara communities as part of their Mobile Safety-Net Team initiative, a multi-year regional effort to identify and offer solutions to issues of poverty.
Gioia said decades of decline have made for a difficult situation across the region.
“The poverty continues to be more concentrated in Niagara Falls, urban areas of Niagara County,” Gioia said. “Nearly one quarter of the population is living in poverty and even more alarming it is a serious problem for one in three children.”
However, there has been incremental progress in recent years, Gioia said.
“Complex problems, social problems such as this will not be changed overnight,” Gioia said. “What we do see, in terms of progress, are the gaps that are being addressed.”
A panel of state and local legislators that included State Senator George Maziarz, R-Newfane, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, Niagara Falls City Council Chairman Charles Walker and Lockport Mayor Anne McCaffrey spoke during the day-long conference.
The lawmakers described the power they have in dealing with poverty in their districts and cities and identified what they saw as obstacles that need to be addressed before taking questions from the audience.