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Finding ways to alleviate poverty on regional scale is focus of forum

Advocates for the region's poor shared their ideas for combating poverty with local social workers Monday during a forum at the Greater Buffalo Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The forum, sponsored by the local division of the National Association of Social Workers, featured a panel of five representatives from local advocacy groups and service providers who explained what their organizations are doing to address poverty across the region.

"Hopefully, there will be some connections facilitated," said Denise Kraus, Western Division director of the National Association of Social Workers, just prior to the panel discussion.

"There are going to be a number of students here from the School of Social Work at [the University at Buffalo]. We also hope that the students get interested in some of the ways to attack poverty, and maybe we'll get hooked up with internships [and] volunteer service opportunities."

Diane Bessel of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, who served as moderator of the panel, began the discussion with a profile of Buffalo, which, she noted, is ranked as the nation's third-poorest city, behind Detroit and Cleveland.

"We're approaching one in three people in Buffalo [who are] living below the federal poverty line. In terms of actual numbers, that's about 35,000 people who fall below that federal poverty line," Bessel said.

"We also need to consider the fact that 42 percent of those who fall below that line are children."

Across the eight counties of Western New York, Bessel said, those living below the poverty line account for 15 percent of the population, or 130,000 people.

Among those participating on the panel were Gary and Linda Tatu, who founded Harvest House in 1993 when the Tatus sold their Williamsville home to purchase and refurbish a vacant church building at 1782 Seneca St.

Harvest House provides meeting space for nonprofit groups, an infants' and children's outreach program, a free health clinic and other services.

Others on the panel were Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League, the nation's oldest advocacy organization for African-Americans living in poverty; Aaron Bartley, executive director in Buffalo for People United for Sustainable Housing, or PUSH, which seeks to rebuild impoverished neighborhoods on the West Side; Anthony Armstrong, a program officer for Local Initiatives Support Corp., a nonprofit organization that helps community leaders transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy, sustainable communities; and Carol Ludwig, commissioner of the Orleans County Department of Social Services.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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