GREENFIELD — Five days a week, Michael Cartwright can be found at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, gratefully eating a meal he couldn’t otherwise afford.
On paper, it shouldn’t be this way. Cartwright, 43, of Greenfield, makes well above minimum wage, earning $14 an hour as a sheet-metal worker. But add up his bills, which include $520 a month in child support, and there’s often no money left over for groceries.
Eat at the soup kitchen — at least one meal a day — or don’t eat. It’s that simple, he said.
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New data show poverty in Hancock County is on the rise, and leaders of the local social service agencies say the trend is reflected in the increase in clients they serve year after year.Hancock County’s poverty rate is 7.6 percent, according to newly released census data that analyzed community information from 2010-14. That’s up from 5.6 percent five years ago when Census figures were last released.In the same period, the number of county families receiving food stamps rose from about 5 percent to 7.1 percent.
Those numbers encompass people living below the poverty line — a threshold set by the federal government, but that measuring stick doesn’t paint the whole picture of need in Hancock County, said Carl Denny, executive director of the Hancock Hope House, a local homeless shelter that serves Rush, Shelby and Hancock counties.
Cartwright, for example, doesn’t meet the government’s definition of being poverty-stricken, yet he always struggles to pay the bills.
He brings home about $360 each week, and $130 of that goes directly to pay child support.
On top of that, he pays $495 a month for rent, $150 for his used car and legal fees associated with his recent divorce. Add utilities and credit card payments — which he often can’t make — and there’s not much left for buying food, Cartwright said. So during the week, he eats at the soup kitchen, saving money to purchase food for the weekend, when the kitchen is closed.
“I’m just surviving,” Cartwright said. “It’s just killing me.”
‘I feel like I’m failing’
In Hancock County, 5,320 people lived in poverty between 2010 and 2014, census data show. That’s up from 3,836 between 2005 and 2009. Hancock County has about 70,000 residents.Denny said the increase doesn’t surprise him. Even though the recession ended during the summer of 2009, hardworking families around the county still feel its effects.At Hope House, residents are required to work or seek employment in order to stay there, but often, that employment is a minimum-wage paying job.
They work hard, Denny said. Still, it’s not enough to make ends meet.
In Indiana, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If a mother of three works 40 hours a week at that wage, she’ll make $310 a week before taxes. In a year, she’ll earn about $16,000, more than $7,000 below the poverty line — $24,250 for a family of four.
Paying bills has always been a struggle, said Aimee Arthur, a Greenfield mother of three.
She and her children moved to the Hope House about five months ago after she lost her job.
Now she works at a local hotel where she was recently promoted. She makes $8.50 an hour and works about 32 hours a week, bringing home about $270 a week.
If she can’t find a ride, she walks three miles to and from work.
Because Arthur is staying at the shelter, she’s able to save much of her paycheck, money she hopes to put toward a deposit on a place of her own.
It’s a goal she has as much for her three children — ages 7, 12 and 14 — as herself.
The four of them share a room at the Hope House; two sets of bunk beds are squeezed into the space so everyone has their own bed to sleep in.
“I feel like I can’t do enough” Arthur said. “It’s hard. I feel like I’m failing my kids.”
The homeless shelter’s numbers have increased about 35 percent each year for the past few years, Denny said.
The shelter measures its population by recording every night each person stays in the facility. For Arthur’s family, each night they stay counts for four nights of shelter.
In 2014, the facility provided 3,600 nights of shelter. This year, that number grew to 4,400.
‘Can’t raise a family’
At the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, which opened its doors to hungry families in 2009, the number of meals served increases every year.So far this year, about 27,800 meals have been served, which is about 2,500 more than in 2014. In 2013, about 22,000 meals were served.Executive director Jill Ebbert said the increase illustrates poverty in Hancock County is a growing problem that’s often overlooked, especially as the unemployment rate drops.
“Sure, there are jobs available, but they’re minimum-wage jobs,” she said. “You simply can’t raise a family on that.”
Not when the cost of living is increasing, added Tom Ferguson, president of the Hancock County Food Pantry.
The cost of renting increased about 17 percent during the past four years, data shows. Meanwhile, the median household income increased about 7 percent.
Those statistics portray some of the reasons families end up at the local food pantry, soup kitchen and homeless shelter, Ferguson said.
The pantry’s numbers have stayed consistent during the past few years, he said, serving about 640 families a month.
Though he hasn’t seen a large increase in the number of families needing to use the food pantry, the steady number shows the need is still there despite the supposed uptick in the economy, he said.
“If your salary increases, that’s good. But to accumulate anything, your expenses have to stay the same or decrease, and we’re not seeing that,” he said.
More Hancock County families are living in poverty now as compared with five years ago, according to new Census data. Here’s a look at some of those figures:
Households receiving food stamps
Increase: 44 percent
People living in poverty
Increase: 38 percent
“I’m just surviving. … It’s just killing me.”
Greenfield resident Michael Cartwright
“It’s hard. I feel like I’m failing my kids.”
Greenfield resident Aimee Arthur