Reams of text are regularly devoted to Asheville’s beer, food, arts, local businesses, architecture and natural beauty — as well as whatever new development City Council is considering this week that will, we’re told, either save or doom everything we hold dear about our hometown.
But a far more pressing topic is often completely ignored. Despite Asheville’s much-touted quality of life, one in five city residents lives below the federal poverty line — a number far exceeding both the national and state averages. Many more Ashevilleans must fight to get by, confronting underemployment, a severe lack of affordable housing and a high cost of living. Economic turmoil has further aggravated these problems, leaving many people struggling just to pay for basic food and shelter even as the social-service “safety net” faces considerable cuts.
“Down and Out in Asheville” was an attempt to redress that imbalance, in a small way, by focusing both on the larger problem and on individual city residents’ stories.
In researching it, however, I ran face first into the fact that many people here — including longtime friends — feel they can’t publicly discuss their own poverty, for reasons ranging from shame to endangering their jobs or living situation. Although the piece wound up spotlighting four residents’ diverse stories and outlooks, many, many more declined to speak.
Endemic poverty remains this city’s great unspoken secret. Forget the pretty pictures on the billboards: For far more residents, this is reality. — David Forbes, senior news reporter
“It's early Monday morning, and some 20 to 30 people stand clustered in front of the Eblen-Kimmel Charities, an off-white building tucked back near the West Asheville Sam's Club and the state lottery office. They are male and female, young and old, of differing ethnicities and races. Some carry purses or water bottles; others clasp forms closely to their chest or tap the rolled-up papers against the palm of one hand.”
To view the full story, visit http://avl.mx/1f.