The Human Side of Hunger and Homelessness in Greensboro

Izak Shapiro, Guest Writer

In 2010, one out of every four families in the Greensboro and High Point Area struggled to feed themselves, according to The Greensboro News and Record. Research conducted by Gallup reflects this number on a national scale: 23.4 percent of families in 2010 did not always know where their next meal would come from.

Graphic by Linda Catoe

The national unemployment rate dipped to 9 percent in October — Greensboro’s unemployment rate is 10.4 percent, as is the state of North Carolina’s. These are telling facts, but they do not provide the full picture.

For example, these unemployment statistics do not include those who are partially employed but cannot find more work, or those who grew so discouraged with the job market they stopped searching. Hunger statistics do not include undocumented immigrants, nor can they ever produce absolute accuracy.

More facts: Gallup reported that the Greensboro-High Point area contains the fourth highest percentage of residents in the country who say they do not have enough money for food — Winston Salem is third on the list and Asheville is seventh.

Lamar Gibson, who said leaving Guilford College to work at the Interactive Resource Center in downtown Greensboro was the best decision of his young life, spoke to the role of city politics.

“The city has been damaged by reactionary conservatives who were more concerned with political ideology than putting people back to work,” said Gibson as he leaned forward from his desk chair.

“There’s so much focus on the middle class too, as though if you solve their problems you solve everything; the folks here, their problems didn’t start in ’08 with the market crash—they are here because of a broken system.”

That broken system includes the inadequacy of food stamps. Nineteen percent of Guilford County uses food stamps. Gibson said the IRC, a homeless day shelter, which also provides basic job training and medical care, sees fewer people at the beginning of the month when food stamps are first issued, and a steadily increasing number of people towards the end of each month, as they run out of food stamps. Alyzza Callahan, who works for the Bonner Program at Guilford and has worked at both Americorp and the Greensboro Urban Ministry, echoed Gibson, saying the rates of those in need raise at the end of each month.

Although food stamps are determined on an as-needed basis, $10, 836 a year as a net income is the maximum income rate for those readily approved.

Ben Rumley, the Assistant Director of Volunteer Services at the Greensboro Urban Ministry, sites ignorance as one of the largest issues. A lack of adequately published information could be contributing to this ignorance. For example, 2011 national data shows that just 44 percent of eligible Latino children receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Graphic by Linda Catoe

“Much of the problem has to do with ignorance, not knowing what services are available, not knowing where people can get help,” said Rumley in his small office, down the hall from the Ministry’s packed lunch room — they serve free lunch to all-comers from 10:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays. “A lot of it stems from not knowing where to go; we have to try to work together better with other agencies.”

According to Rumley, a few years ago the Urban Ministry averaged around 200 people at lunch. Now they average about 500. The Salvation Army and other providers could not maintain the fund level needed to produce free meals, and the Urban Ministry feels that impact.

“Government assistance really isn’t a big part of the assistance we get,” said Rumley.

Most of the funding for both the Urban Ministry and the IRC comes from businesses giving back,  private donations and volunteer work. The government’s funding, as well as their programs such as food stamps, simply do not provide adequate support  for all Greensboro residents.

“Those programs are band-aids for larger problems within the economic system that this country subscribes to; the government recognizes that there will be massive economic inequality,” said Gibson, “People often have to sell food stamps for cash to pay bills — the programs address the need, but they do not address the larger issues.”

One of those larger issues can be found at the micro, individual level: the family.

Both Gibson and Rumley said about 80 percent of those they help are men. And about 75 percent of those they help are black, although it is important to note that  these percentages are estimates. Rumley theorized men tend to receive less familial support than women.

But it is at this micro, individual level where change must begin.  A shift in American economics requires a shift in the American individual’s consciousness.

The distribution of governmental funds is easy to criticize, but finding a solution which addresses the systemic issues can be more difficult.

Organizations such as the IRC, the Greensboro Urban Ministry,  The Community Kitchens Project and many others attempt to respond to that need. As Gibson said of the IRC, they ensure the stability people lose when they lose their homes. Rumley and the Urban Ministry provide free meals, a food pantry, job training and even half-way homes.

But Callahan addressed the need for deeper, more creative change.

“We could be growing food in abandoned buildings, intersecting the waste stream and bio-fuels,” said Callahan, who gave the impression she had a wealth of ideas stored in her head. “We’re told to dream all the time — we’ve got to do something.”

Lawndale Baptist Church provided boxed meals for Thanksgiving

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Photo Credit: Onka Dekker and Linda Catoe

For more information, and ways to get involved in making changes, explore these websites:


2 thoughts on “The Human Side of Hunger and Homelessness in Greensboro

  1. Great article. It’s awesome to finally have people reporting on these important issues and advocating for social justice in the region. It’s something that we just don’t get in mainstream media, and it’s much needed. I’ll definitely be following this blog!

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