And yet, Ingersoll said if you asked the average citizen if homelessness and poverty are problems in Newburyport, they would unequivocally say no.
“Poverty is somewhat invisible (here), not by design but through lack of awareness,” Ingersoll said.
Ingersoll and other school leaders invited community advocates to City Hall yesterday to personally deliver the handmade scarves and blankets for their clients. They also asked representatives of the various social services, including the Salvation Army, Best Foot Forward, Pennies for Poverty, Central Congregational Church and Pettengill House, to speak about poverty locally.
Also on hand were City Councilor Ed Cameron, who works for Community Teamwork in Lowell and has spent his life striving to provide housing to the homeless, and Ingrid Cyros of the Hugh Doyle Center in Newburyport, who Ingersoll called the “quarterback” for the team of agencies and volunteers working across Greater Newburyport to connect people with needed services. They all offered their own take on the anguish some area families are experiencing.
At the Pettengill House, which serves Greater Newburyport, 300 of the organization’s 2,700 clients who receive food and other assistance hail from Newburyport, according to Executive Director Deb Smith. Many of those are children, she said.
Smith shared stories of a third-grade girl whose family was forced to move to a subsidized hotel room after losing their home in Newburyport and a high school boy who didn’t know where he was going to sleep. Smith said the situations are heartbreaking and few people realize they are as common as they are.
“There are kids with big, big problems — really big problems in Newburyport,” Smith said. “There are kids in classrooms in Newburyport who haven’t had a meal today.”
“They’re flying just above the tree line,” Cameron said.
Cameron said while most Newburyport residents are “flying closer to 30,000 feet” and can afford the disruption of getting the flu or something worse, given concessions afforded through a stable job, there are many who can’t afford to get sick and lose a day’s pay because they run the risk of not being able to make their rent payment.
“When you’re cruising at a low altitude, any turbulence can make you hit the ground,” he said.
The community advocates said there is help available, but increased awareness of the problem would make it easier for assistance to reach those who need it.
They expressed appreciation to the River Valley Charter students for helping to spread the word.
“Kids make the difference in the world,” Smith said.