As we welcome the new year here in Asheville and Buncombe County, many of us are enjoying significant good luck, good health and prosperity.
But good health and prosperity have not reached everyone:
In a recent study, Buncombe County ranked among the worst places in the U.S. — 92nd out of more than 2,400 counties nationwide — when it came to the inability of children to move out of poverty. Children of color, the fastest-growing segment of Buncombe County’s child population, are two to three times as likely to live in poverty as their non-Hispanic white peers.
Each and every year, poverty costs Asheville and Buncombe County millions in health care, social services, and lost prosperity and opportunity. Poverty hurts all of us — no matter our personal wealth. Just as our individual freedom is bound in the freedom of all people, our health and prosperity are bound up with the health and prosperity of others, “regardless of what they look like, or where they come from, or what their last name is or what faith they practice.”
Poverty is a crisis in our community that we can no longer afford. We can no longer hold the view that poverty is too big or too complex to address. While city and county governments have limited resources, and the poverty rate is shaped considerably by national economic trends and federal policies, there are critically important steps the city and county can take.
Other city governments have undertaken similar efforts. In Richmond, Va., the Office of Community Wealth Building was established to increase wealth and reduce poverty for all citizens. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, launched End Poverty Edmonton to advance a vision of shared prosperity for all. In Charlotte, the Renaissance West Community Initiative is deploying the Purpose Built Communities model focused on mixed-income housing, education, youth and adult development programs, health and wellness services, and commercial investment.
These strategies build a strong case for ending poverty on three fronts: the economic argument, the human rights case and the public opinion approach.
Fortunately for Asheville, this new year, there is funding available for our city to join the prosperity movement.
Invest Health is a grant opportunity that will support new partnerships in up to 50 midsized cities across the nation. Midsized cities are where the majority of Americans live and where many experience some of nation’s deepest challenges with entrenched poverty, poor health and lack of investment.
The time has come for Asheville and Buncombe County to take advantage of the Invest Health opportunity, take charge and assess the extent of poverty, examine the history behind the concentration of poverty and, most important, to identify and plan for what needs to be done and how to do it.
This new year, let’s open the door to opportunity for all by putting in place a prosperity agenda that will help create a city where every child and every citizen has an equal opportunity to live, work, participate and thrive.
Asheville City Council meets Jan. 12 and Jan. 29 at 5 p.m. in the Council Chamber located on the second floor of City Hall to vote on a resolution to have the mayor sign a letter of intent to apply for the Invest Health grant.
Let City Council know you support accelerating action that will fundamentally change the way our city improves opportunities for all citizens to live more prosperous and healthy lives.
— Pat Kelly