October 21, 2014

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Poverty up in Lorain

LORAIN — Lorain Council members Greg Holcomb and Kathy Tavenner could just as easily be talking about a hurricane when they describe the impact of poverty in their city.

“You can see the effects, see it in the neighborhoods where they’re boarding up homes,” Tavenner said.
Holcomb agreed: “I see it on a daily basis when I got out in the wards. You can kind of tell there’s not a positive thing in the air right now.”

In some ways, the Council members sound just as powerless battling Lorain’s poverty as they would if they were trying to stop a Category 5 hurricane from barreling down Broadway. 

“What we can do to address it … it’s not an easy situation,” Holcomb said, sighing.

Holcomb and Tavenner weren’t surprised to learn that Lorain ranked among the worst cities in Ohio whose poverty rates were released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on Tuesday.

The number of people below the poverty level in Lorain has increased by almost half, according to the survey. In 2005, 17.6 percent of Lorain’s 69,803 people were below the poverty level. In 2006, 26 percent of Lorain’s population was below the poverty level while the city’s population grew by only about 700 people, or about 1 percent.

“There’s really no good answer,” Holcomb said. “If there were, we’d have other communities doing things to fix their problems as well. It’s the climate of Northeast Ohio in general.”

The solutions are multilayered, Holcomb said, and he features economic development proposals and ideas on his Web site, www.6ward.com.

“I don’t think it would hurt to have a discussion on where we’re at, and what our economic status is in the town,” Holcomb said. “Where’s the city going? That’s the big question.”

Tavenner said she’s been on the Lorain Council for 14 years, and she hasn’t seen such harsh poverty as she has in the past year or so. The quickest and most obvious solution for local folks, she said, is to shop locally.

“The biggest thing is to maintain everything that we have open — every store, every company,” Tavenner said. “I don’t see any great thing sweeping through to make a big difference, so we need to keep open the things that we have: Super Kmart, Apples, Sears Hardware, Willow Hardware, U.S. Steel.”

Councilman and mayoral candidate Tony Krasienko said the city needs to start “thinking big” by courting new industries — health care, high-tech and such. 

“Obviously those aren’t the numbers we like to see,” Krasienko said of the poverty results. “We need to think bigger than just Lorain — we have to work toward regionalized employment goals and work on a regional basis, instead of within our own microcosm.”
Krasienko said the region’s healthcare and medical industry is perhaps the most viable and sustainable industry, and also the likely solution to fill in the gaps left by Lorain’s disappearing manufacturing industry.

“We can set ourselves up to play off that medical industry that’s thriving in Cleveland,” Krasienko said. “We have some great locations that would lend itself to the medical industry."

Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.