SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV)– When you think of the City of Syracuse, lots of things come to mind: record-breaking crowds at the Dome, one of the biggest malls in America, great barbecue. The Salt City is synonymous with so many things, but now it’s landed at the top of a list no community wants to be on.
“My reaction was no different than anyone else’s reaction,” City of Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens said. “Syracuse is home, I love this place, I love its people, and I was like: here we go again.”
The latest data from the Census Bureau shows that nearly half of kids under the age of 18 are living in poverty in Syracuse.
That’s close to 15,000 children.
Syracuse’s poverty rate has surpassed every other city with at least 100,000 people in them, including places like Detroit and Cleveland. Two upstate cities ranked closely behind Syracuse: Rochester at #2 and Buffalo at #6.
But what does living in poverty actually mean? For a family of four, it’s an annual income of less than $26,246. The median household income in Syracuse is $38,893.
If you’re wondering if this is a new issue, it’s not. Poverty has plagued the City of Syracuse for years. In 2015, Syracuse ranked number five for childhood poverty. Small strides have been made, but improvements are still falling short compared to other cities.
It’s not for a lack of trying, but a multi-layered problem requires a multi-layered solution. Each layer is being chipped away at by community leaders like Deputy Mayor Owens who grew up here and stayed the course to better her community. Kenneth Hills is also a contributing person. He can remember the days of running around the Southwest Community Center as a kid and now he’s helping to lead that same center as the Chief Operating Officer of Syracuse Community Connections.
“So it’s just funny now to be here… not even funny, but somewhat rewarding now to be here, and see the youth coming in and, you know, building the rapport with you cause it doesn’t start overnight,” Hills said.
And it’s that same belief that brought his colleague, Valerie Hill through the doors of the Southwest Community Center 12 years ago. The Syracuse native wanted to be a mentor and resource for her neighborhood.
“Those kids really rely and depend on me and I rely and depend on them as well,” Valerie Hill said. “So we have a great relationship, it’s mutual, our love is mutual, our trust is mutual, and with that, it makes things a little bit easier for them.”
That deep connection to her community is something that Syracuse Community Health Center CEO Mark Hall resonates with.
“It’s personal to me because I lived here when I was a child. I came to the health center, my parents brought me here to receive services. I lived on this side of town, I know… what the challenges are,” Mark Hall said.
Poverty’s grip and impact affect people from all walks of life in all different ways.
This is why these community leaders are fighting back with a common goal in mind.