The Perkins Perspective | The (Sub)Urban Scene | Spring 2012
On Poverty: Letter From a Fourth Grader
By Smith Hunter, Age 10
Editor’s note: Our children attend a Catholic independent school dedicated to developing their hearts and minds, and character and competence as future citizens and community members. My oldest daughter spent her winter break learning about Washington state for a fourth grade project. In doing so, she decided to find out more about poverty after watching Hard Times Generation: Homeless Kids on 60 Minutes. Afterward, she wrote the below letter to Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
Dear Ms. Bagshaw,
Over the winter break, I’ve been studying about poverty to learn about how being poor affects children. I wanted to share what I’ve learned about Washington and to ask a few questions about how the city of Seattle is addressing poverty. I want to begin with some important facts based on the national poverty guidelines.
Based on my research, almost 12 percent of all Washingtonians are living in poverty. American Indians and Alaskan natives have the highest rate of poverty at 29 percent. Beneath these two groups are African-Americans, at 25 percent. The elderly (65 and older) are affected by poverty, as well. According to the data, 9 percent of the senior population is poor. Of adults living in poverty, 27 percent are unemployed. Of those unemployed 2 percent lost their jobs over the past year.
As a young person, I am really concerned about poor children. Employment and marriage situations impact families and children. Our family watched a 60 Minute special on homeless children that led to this interest. In our state, 15.4 percent of children under the age of live below the federal poverty level. On the one hand, white and Asian children have a poverty rate of 10 percent. On the other hand, other groups are disproportionately poor: Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders at 39 percent; African-American at 34 percent: Natives American and Alaskan at 32 percent; and Hispanic children at 30 percent. One website said that it is possible to fill Safeco Field more than five times with the 231,026 children in Washington state that are living in poverty. That’s a shocking number of children.
On Friday, I met President of Union Gospel Mission Mr. Jeff Lilley and had an interview with him. During our meeting, I learned more about poor people. In this paragraph, I want to share what I learned and ask you a question about how to help homeless children and their families.
According to Mr. Lilley, Union Gospel Mission has a budget of $20,000,000 a year. They get most of this money from donations. Union Gospel Mission feeds 500 people three times a day. This happens through their organization and others. The mission feeds the people their donated food and food that Union Gospel Mission buys. Mr. Lilley said that their favorite foods are first dessert and sugar, second is meat, and third is bread. Fifty percent of the poor people come back to get some food everyday because they’ve got problems with their family. The other 50 percent go back to their families even though they had problems with them. For many homeless people, the most important need is relationships with other people to support them and jobs.
The other important need is housing for families and street youth. Mr. Lilley told us that most shelter goes to single adults. The city has little shelter for women and their children. Seattle also has lots of homeless youth who can’t find safe places to stay. As a young person, I want elected officials to help the homeless and the poor in our city. I also want to make a difference.
Hope that all is well!
Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw's Reply
Thank you for the letter. I am glad you are researching such an important issue and are learning so many important things that will really make a difference in our city. ...
The City of Seattle spends millions of dollars every year helping people who need housing. Through a Housing Levy that voters passed in 2009, we build housing for people who cannot afford their own places to live and we help them pay for it. Seattle voters are extremely generous, and over the past two decades we have built apartments for thousands of individuals and families who could not otherwise afford to live here. ...
This past November voters passed another levy (which is a tax we apply to ourselves) to help students in Seattle get the best education we can give them. This Families and Education levy will help families prepare their little children for kindergarten. As you know, not every family has the skills and education your parents have, and not every child is supported to get the education you are getting. So, the City of Seattle is working with the Seattle School District and with some nonprofit organizations to provide additional resources including health care information and reading readiness for families and children that need it. We also help keep young people stay in school and gain confidence in themselves. This is important, because if a young person decides to drop out of school, he or she will have a very hard time getting a good paying job or getting back on track to go to college. If you want to learn more about the Families and Education levy, here is a link: seattle.gov/council/issues/families_education_levy/. ...
You personally will do so many things to help others. ... For now, you can tutor other children to help them read or learn math, you could join me and help clean up a local park, or raise money to put a "yellow swing" into a playground for children with disabilities. If you have another idea that appeals to you, you could talk to me about it, and we could create a plan to make your idea work. Or you could invite your parents or teachers to contact a group called "Future Philanthropists" which works with young people to achieve their dreams for their community. Here's their website: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have great faith in you and send much love. If you want to visit me at City Hall, or bring your whole class down for a conversation, I would love to meet with you.
Editor’s closing note: Growing up in poverty, I lived in communities with schools that didn’t prepare me to write and engage adults, on this level, in elementary school. Early on in our parenting project, my wife, Risako, and I decided to give our children the best possible education, and to encourage them to develop compassion for those on the margins of society. We're grateful that God has given us teachers, administrators, and elected officials that help us with our vision. As you can see, I’m proud of Smith for her interest in the poor, and diligence in her school work.
Smith Hunter is the oldest of three siblings. She is in the fourth grade, and loves to play soccer and dance ballet. She also dreams about attending Harvard Medical School someday.
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