Combating Poverty

Combating Poverty


Robert Chirles, director of Department of Family Services and Peter Edelman, associate dean, Georgetown University Law Center, are speakers at the poverty symposium.

It began in July when Karen Velez and her friend, Susan Jane Stack, both employed by the Loudoun County Department of Family Services, attended a meeting in Bethesda, Md., that focused on strategies for fighting local poverty. They remembered the increasing number of people in Loudoun living in the poverty range and decided to take action. Velez and Stack returned home and set out to do what had not been done before. They organized the first poverty symposium in Loudoun.

It was held in Leesburg Wednesday, Oct. 24, and about 125 local and national leaders attended.

"This was something we needed to do," Velez said. "We need to move forward in Loudoun." She noted that while the median income in Loudoun is approximately $99,000, there are still about 400 homes in the county without plumbing.

THREE PERCENT of Loudoun’s population lives in the poverty range. The county’s population was listed at 268,817 during 2006, so nearly 8,000 live in poverty. Families of four people with an income of $20,000 or less are considered poor.

"We need to do something to attack the 3 percent," said Robert Chirles, director of the Loudoun Department of Family Services.

After listening to presentations describing poverty, leaders broke off into small groups and discussed solutions. Groups will issue reports this December.

ANDY JOHNSTON, executive director of Loudoun Cares said, "We live in a very affluent area. However, if you’re poor here, you’re really poor."

Loudoun Cares has a large database that describes assistance programs. A telephone help line directs people in finding services.

It received about 1,500 calls during the past year and Johnston noticed calls are increasing. Typically people call needing assistance with evacuation, utilities, health care and as well as other issues.

Speakers at the symposium were Robert Chirles, director of Department of Family Services, Peter Edelman, associate dean of Georgetown University Law Center, Camille Cormier, director of Local Programs and Policy, Kate Farrar, associate director of National Programs and Policy, and Jodie Levin-Epstein, assistant director, Center for Law and Social Policy.