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Community Voices: Moving from surviving to thriving/A profile of our neighbors in need

Jennifer Yeagley

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According to the United Way’s United for ALICE project, “Traditional measures of poverty do not capture the magnitude of people who are struggling financially.” 

ALICE is an acronym, Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE includes our neighbors who are working – often more than one job – but due to the high cost of living, they are barely getting by. ALICE is someone you know. ALICE is your barista. Your hairstylist. Your Lyft driver. The manager at your favorite restaurant. The person who answers the phone when you call customer service. ALICE is your neighbor.

Our ALICE neighbors are one paycheck away from financial crisis, and Covid’s disruption of our economy exacerbated this worrying trend. 

  • 35% of Pinellas County residents are in the ALICE population and another 11% are living in poverty based on federal poverty levels. That means 46% of our neighbors are struggling to make ends meet or not making it at all.
  • According to ALICE data, a Pinellas county family of four must earn $66,000 per year to be at the ALICE Survival Threshold, meaning they are able to afford the bare minimum costs of living and working in the modern economy. ALICE families often lack health insurance, struggle to cover basic expenses like rent and groceries, and can experience mental health challenges from being under constant economic strain
  • Local Community Health Needs’ Assessments tell us the top five health-related concerns among our neighbors in need in Pinellas County are “access to health care, mental health, housing, hunger and substance abuse.” All concerns that hit the ALICE population hardest of all.

ALICE includes families, seniors, couples and individuals whose income often makes them ineligible for critical community services governed by outdated federal poverty guidelines. ALICE families often do not qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and are hungry. They are not Medicaid-eligible so they cannot access healthcare, mental health or substance use support. They do not qualify for federally subsidized programs for housing, employment support or other assistance that use federal poverty levels to determine eligibility. They are doing everything they are “supposed” to do AND are still barely getting by. The St. Petersburg Free Clinic serves ALICE in these ways:

  • The We Help FRESH Pantry provides nutritious food for an average of 21,000 individuals per month. The FRESH Pantry ensures people not only have groceries to feed their families, they have FRESH, nutritious food that benefits their health.
  • SPFC Health Center offers access to quality healthcare for individuals who lack health insurance, allowing them to receive primary care, as well as a range of specialty care services. What could become an emergency doesn’t because of our patients’ capability to connect with our volunteer providers and address their health concerns.
  • Our Drug Assistance Program (DAP) ensures patients can access expensive medications, like insulin, at no cost to them. DAP patients do not have to make the choice between paying their rent or getting the medication they need to live.
  • Mental health services offered in our Health Center and Baldwin Women’s Residence provide critical support for managing anxiety, depression, and support in substance use recovery.
  • Our Residential Programs provide safe transitional housing where those recovering from substance use can gain stability in their recovery while obtaining and maintaining employment, saving money and rebuilding relationships.

The United Way Suncoast provides two resource centers where people who fall into the ALICE population can tap into vital services and receive references to local community partners: The Campbell Park Resource Center, 601 14th St S, St. Petersburg, located inside John Hopkins Middle School, and the North Greenwood Resource Center inside a Clearwater Police Department substation at 900 N Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, Clearwater.

If you are looking for a way to strengthen our community and assist our ALICE neighbors, here are a few ways to make a difference:

 

  • Give: More flexible funds for organizations like the Free Clinic means more needs met and a healthier, thriving community that benefits us all.
  • Serve: Your hands-on support of community-based programs offsets staffing costs and demonstrates compassion for those who seek services the Free Clinic offers.
  • Support: Policies like SNAP expansion and minimum wage increases make it easier for hard-working families to move beyond survival.
  • Spread the word and follow: You can follow us and share about the Free Clinic on Facebook and on Instagram.

Together, we can make a difference to our ALICE neighbors in need and create a community where everyone not only survives but thrives.

Jennifer Yeagley is CEO of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

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