Tucson needs to find solutions to its most dire, complex problem: poverty.
Doing so is the objective of a community forum, “Poverty: The Working Poor,” hosted by the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and Arizona Public Media.
“I am hoping it will generate information and ideas that help dispel stereotypes about the working poor in our community,” said one of the nine panelists, Peggy Hutchison, chief executive officer of Tucson’s Primavera, a nonprofit housing-development organization. “I hope it will also stimulate discussion about some of the creative responses that are working in addressing poverty.”
The moderator Wednesday will be Neal Conan, an award-winning journalist who hosted National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” for 11 years before the program ended in June.
Clint Mabie, CEO of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, said organizers asked Conan to moderate to raise more public interest and to have someone on hand who knows how to manage discussions well.
During his career, Conan served as NPR’s Bureau Chief in London and New York and anchored live coverage of many events.
Conan, 64, said some of the most memorable shows he moderated were about poverty, including drought-stricken farmers, food-stamp recipients and homeless veterans. The shows were widely listened to, he said, and many called in to share in the conversation.
“Poverty has been among the critical issues of our lives,” he wrote in an email exchange with the Star. “As a reporter, it’s been a theme of stories I’ve covered from my start in New York, to the discussions we conducted on “Talk of the Nation.”
Tucson’s forum on poverty follows two series from last summer, “Losing Ground” by the Arizona Daily Star; and “Getting By: Living Between the Poverty Lines” by Arizona Public Media. Both journalistic endeavors helped residents see how dire Tucson’s poverty rate had become.
Many Tucsonans are struggling to get by, with some working two or three jobs just to have enough money for food and housing. And Tucson’s children are suffering most, with one in three living in poverty here compared to one in five nationwide.
Panelist John Pedicone, former superintendent of Tucson Unified and Flowing Wells school districts, will talk about what worked well to help his former students and their families during his 22 years reforming the district.
Setting goals and “creating a culture of support and academic success is critical,” he said. “Regardless of what the situations were in the neighborhoods, we have to make sure the best education possible is being provided. We had some really remarkable things that happened.”
Hutchison, of Primavera, said one key is finding a way to have Tucson’s many different sectors work together to solve problems and share data and outcomes.
“How do we take what we know and work together in areas concerning health, housing, public safety, etcetera, and agree on some common outcomes?” she said.
“This is about really looking to see, by working together, how we can really make better use of the assets in our community.”