A local non-profit group is inviting Steuben County residents to imagine what it’s really like to be poor, with its third annual “Walk A Mile” campaign.

A local non-profit group is inviting Steuben County residents to imagine what it’s really like to be poor, with its third annual “Walk A Mile” campaign.


“What does it mean to be poor?” Catholic Charities Steuben Executive Director Laura Opelt said. “Poverty is hunger.  Poverty is lack of shelter.  It is being sick without the ability to see a doctor.  Poverty is illiteracy.  It is having a job that does not pay a living wage.  Poverty is living one day at a time.  It is hopelessness.  It is powerlessness.  It is not having the ability to change or improve your life.”


The agency hopes its Sept, 10th campaign will bring residents a greater awareness of the problem, and raise funds to reduce it. Walks are slated to begin simultaneously at 10 a.m. in the cities of Corning and Hornell, and village of Bath,


The current economic climate in Steuben County has resulted in one out of seven county residents living in poverty


According to a recent Catholic Charities report, Steuben County ranked 54th out of 62 counties in New York, with an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. The ranking is higher than the State rate and the highest in the Southern Tier.


Catholic Charities also reported another seven percent of county residents may be under-employed or have stopped looking for work. Unemployment insurance for many of those laid off is expected to run out before the end of this year, officials said.


Opelt said some county residents blame people for their own bad circumstances.


“While it is true that many people living in poverty are there as a result of their own poor choices or decisions, the majority of our community members who are poor are poverty stricken based on circumstance or decisions over which they had no control,” she said.


The chief causes of poverty in the country are physical, learning and mental disabilities, mental illness, lack of education or job skills or work that does not pay a living wage, she said.


Opelt said 77 households in the county still require cash assistance after the five-year welfare deadline runs out. But as of July 1, 813 households, with 1,561 individuals receive welfare, she said. Steuben’s current population is pegged at 98,726. 


Other residents do qualify for food stamps, Medicaid or heating assistance, she said.


Catholic Charities’ mission is to help those in need and get them back on their feet. The agency runs a Food Pantry and provides financial counseling, mentoring, case management and referrals to other non-profit groups in area.  


But cuts in federal and state funding means there will be less money to help greater needs in the area, according to Opelt.


“The goals of the walk are to raise awareness of poverty in Steuben County,” she said.  “And to collect donations to support Catholic Charities' work providing ‘Help that works, Hope that lasts.’”