Women share thoughts on finding self-sufficiency


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GREENFIELD — A Women’s Resource Center workshop on self-sufficiency focused on the importance of independence, but also on the value of asking for help.

The event, held Saturday, Oct. 26, was the first in a planned series of workshops on empowering women in Hancock County; Women’s Resource Center director Beth Ingle said the next workshop will likely focus on domestic violence.

Self-sufficiency can be defined as a personal experience of emotional and financial independence, Ingle said, but it also has a more precise definition. The Indiana Institute for Working Families calculates self-sufficiency wages for each county in the state based on pricing for common expenses like rent, transportation and child care. One adult supporting two children in Hancock County would need to make an hourly wage of at least $21.50 to be self-sufficient.

For many women, Ingle said, that goal remains out of reach.

“Women in Indiana are entering poverty at a faster rate than men,” Ingle said.

According to data from the Indiana Institute for Working Families, nearly half of Indiana single mothers live in poverty. Women have higher rates of poverty in the state than men, and the number of women living in extreme poverty — a family of three making less than $10,045 per year — has risen by 23 percent since 2008.

Panelists at the event were Stephanie Gustin of the Interlocal Community Action Program, who works with clients on obtaining affordable housing; Karla Whisenand, director of Love Inc., a Christian nonprofit that connects people in need with church resources; Angie Lyon, program coordinator at Hancock Hope House; and Kit Paternoster, volunteer coordinator at Hancock County Senior Services.

Paternoster said many people in Hancock County are unaware of the resources that are available to them, even from longstanding organizations like Senior Services.

“Many people in this county still do not know we exist, and that’s an astonishing fact that we are aware of day in and day out,” Paternoster said.

Lyon said people who utilize the services of Hope House are in need for a wide variety of reasons, but most have fallen into the “donut hole”: they are working, often multiple jobs, and earning just slightly too much to qualify for welfare services while still experiencing severe financial need.

Many of her clients, Lyon said, are single mothers or mothers who are struggling to exit bad relationships but feel they would be unable to raise their children alone. She said she advises them to think first of what is best for themselves, which generally leads to making the right choices for their children.

“At some point, you have to get selfish,” Lyon said.

Whisenand said Love Inc. receives requests for assistance from both men and women, but many of the clients she sees are single mothers.

Love Inc. also offers a four-course money management program, as well as courses about cooking and home repair on a budget.

Another part of its mission is connecting children with safe foster homes when partners, in the short or long term, cannot care for them. In 2018, it helped place 84 children in 35 homes.

Whisenand said many of the women she speaks to are struggling to provide financially for their children and may not be seeking child support because they believe it would require granting visitation rights to a father, something that is not always true.

“My advice to women, and this may not be so popular, but I really think they need to wait until they actually have a husband and get married and they’re together, or at least in a committed relationship,” Whisenand said. “They’re wonderful to have, but so many can’t afford the ones they have. That is another barrier, I think, to self-sufficiency.”

While connecting them with immediate help, Whisenand said, Love Inc. also tries to help clients learn about financial literacy, something that can be an important step on the road to self-sufficiency.

“We don’t want to put a Band-Aid on it and then just have the same problem again, so we really are trying to help churches help people, but at the same time help them help themselves,” she said.

Other barriers to self-sufficiency, Gustin said, are more systemic. She said there is a major lack of affordable housing in Hancock County that does not match up with its financial demographics, describing the real estate market as “wine taste on a beer budget.”

“People will say, ‘Well, they shouldn’t have a nice home because they’re on Section 8.’ I’ve heard stuff like that. Well, you know, Section 8 isn’t something that’s negative, and someone who isn’t on Section 8 is just as much of a risk that you’re renting to as someone who is,” Gustin said, referring to the federal program that provides subsidies to landlords to rent apartments or homes to low-income people at market rates.

Many of her clients, she said, are caught in the dilemma of being unable to find a job without having a permanent address, while also being unable to secure a permanent address without finding a job.

“There are a lot of families right now in our community who don’t have that home support, that parent, that grandparent, they can go to say, ‘Can you help me,’ because they themselves are probably struggling and can’t afford to help them,” Gustin said.

Gustin said the focus on efforts to help women in Hancock County should be about letting them know that is acceptable to sometimes ask for help and depend on other people.”

“Everyone goes through crap you don’t expect,” Gustin said. “I think that the negative stigma that’s there, people thinking that people are going to think less of you or lower of you because you’re getting help, needs to go away.”

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