FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — There's a lot more to poverty than just a lack of money.
Instead, it is more often a tangled web of interconnected problems, with any one of them enough to cause an immediate crisis.
"Is the issue housing? Is it employment? Is it education?" Denise Porter-Ross asks in an Urban League office stacked high with case files of people dealing with all of those problems, and more. "These things are all so intertwined that you can't tug on the string of one without affecting the others."
But just as bewildering as the web causing poverty is trying to navigate the web of assistance to deal with — and hopefully escape — the condition.
There are myriad agencies to help, but each has a different mission, requirements, guidelines, locations and hours of operation. Finding your way is difficult enough, it's even harder without a car, or a job with an unbendable schedule.
None of this is new. But despite hints and whispers that the economy may be slowly beginning to improve, more and more people continue to be dropped into this world, people who have never had to ask for assistance before and have no idea where to even start. Missteps are easy to make — like not seeking township assistance first — and can cause delays for those who can least afford them.
"People who used to be the haves are becoming the have-nots," said Porter-Ross, a community case manager at Fort Wayne Urban League. "I see on average 15 new people per week. That's with no advertising, no fliers, nothing. It's just people walking in looking for help."
Community Harvest Food Bank, which last year reported providing emergency food for an estimated 90,000 different people in northeast Indiana, had its busiest-ever Saturday on June 25.
The food bank is open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and usually sees people lining up outside at 6 a.m., food bank spokeswoman Claudia Johnson said. Most Saturdays, they serve between 500 and 600 people.
"We saw 820 heads of household this last Saturday (June 25)," Johnson said. "That's a huge amount of people lined up outside to get inside for whatever we have."
Rather than improving, Johnson said, things seem to be getting worse.
"I don't know if we've ever seen that many people since I've been here," she said. "It's not getting better."
That was the finding of a recent study by the Community Research Institute at IPFW, which The Journal Gazette reported June 8. That report, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the Community Foundation of Fort Wayne, showed that increases in poverty in Allen County since 2000 have been dramatic.
One in eight children in Allen County was in poverty in 2000, the report said, but by 2009 that number had jumped to one in every five. Poverty rates for adults in 2000 were lower than national levels, but saw dramatic gains and now are higher than national rates.
So as the non-profits and government agencies endure budget cuts caused by the recession, the need for their services is increasing. Not only that, but those suddenly needing help aren't familiar with the system.
"The ugly side of it is we're starting to see pushback and divisiveness," Porter-Ross said. "These people are already struggling, and now they're mad to hear they're in a waiting list of 2,000 people."
One of those thousands is Larry Hunt.
But he's not angry; he's hopeful, even after a year of being unemployed.
"There are organizations and places that do care," Hunt said.
Hunt learned about dozens of the organizations and places that care at the class Porter-Ross teaches every Tuesday morning, Beyond Basic Assistance.
The two-hour workshop provides a road map for finding assistance. For instance, many don't know that in most cases, their first stop is their township trustee. Some don't even know which township they live in: Porter-Ross said about half of the people she sees aren't originally from Fort Wayne, so they're not familiar with the things many people take for granted.
One woman in Tuesday's class shared how she found out the hard way that her township will only see three people per day. Arriving when they opened at 8 a.m., she said, she was already too late.
"Remember, they are inundated, too," Porter-Ross told the nine women and two men in a recent class. "It's like you said, they only see three people a day, but you also said there's only two people in that office."
The entire two hours is devoted to helping people learn how to jump through agency hoops rather than trip over them.
"What Urban League does is try to connect you with the services that are best for your situation," Porter-Ross tells the group. "I do not have cash to help you. I can't write you a check. But I can help get you to people who can."
That was music to Hunt's ears. Hunt, 34, lost his job after a hit-and-run accident a year ago, leaving him with nine screws and a metal plate in his ankle. The loss of a job led to the loss of his home; he got food stamps but not unemployment or disability and now lives with his sister.
"I'm asking God to bless me with a job," Hunt said. "That's all I'm asking."
The ultimate goal of Porter-Ross' work, a theme hammered on throughout the two-hour class, is that assistance is not the ultimate goal — not needing assistance is the goal. The class is just the beginning.
"You might have come here thinking you need help with your June rent, but in actuality we need to touch on all these things to make sure you can also take care of July and August rent," she tells the group, "and more importantly, that your children in 15 years aren't also in a class like this."
That's exactly what brought Janisha Redmond, 20, to the Urban League's Hanna-Creighton campus.
She has an apartment and a job and no children, but she also has no current hope of ever getting ahead.
"I'm employed, but it's just enough to take care of the bills," Redmond said. "You go day-to-day."
Many of the things the class talked about — like budgeting and cutting back — she already does.
"I don't have cable, no cellphone," Redmond said. "I want to see how I can do this on my own without assistance."
Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net