In this five-day series, The Durango Herald investigates the growing number of local families falling into poverty in La Plata County, and the social support systems and assistance programs available to them.
Day 1 - Identifying the problem
Butch Lawrence started over three times last year.
He's lived in the woods more than once. There was a time when “home” was his car, parked at a local gas station.
Lawrence has four children younger than age 6.
Poverty isn't new in La Plata County, but today it has new faces.
They are the faces of people with homes, cars and histories of self-sufficiency. Many of them aren't making it here anymore.
Day 2 - How it feels to be poor
One-time help won't cut it this time.
Local families' growing financial pain could translate to funding woes for Durango School District 9-R.
Enrollment is falling at some local schools as families flee the area seeking financial security elsewhere. And when families leave, with them goes a piece of the district's funding.
As more La Plata County parents slip from security to poverty, educators and social service providers say the hardship inevitably trickles down to their children.
Day 3 - Holes in the safety net
As a single mother with a 3-year-old boy, Diana Williams faces tough decisions every day.
Like what to cut when the grocery bill is the only thing left.
“I could maybe get by eating ramen noodles and hot dogs every day.” Williams said. “But that's not OK for a growing boy.”
It's a predicament many Durangoans know well: multiple jobs but still not enough money to pay all the bills. Earnings too high for assistance but too low to really make it.
It's hanging onto the cliff with white knuckles.
Local leaders tend to split along ideological lines when it comes to ideas for solving poverty.
“I don't believe the government is very good at being the answer to these kinds of problems,” said La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter. Charities are better at stretching a dollar, she said.
Day 4 - What’s being done
Nicole Pearson came to town six years ago ready to take on the world. Or at least a degree from Fort Lewis College.
If only it had worked out so simply.
She met someone. Then came two children. Pearson, 26, said the relationship turned rocky, he developed a substance-abuse problem and they split.
Even before the recession began hammering family finances, researchers say, many of Colorado's working families were falling fast into poverty.
The economic downturn continues to compound the problem. Many local families say they're losing hope for a better life here.
As local residents and officials mobilize to meet struggling families' needs today, advocates say some big-picture and novel approaches also will be a necessary part of the battle against poverty.
Here are a few of the concepts gaining traction around the nation:
What started as a classroom exercise for a group of Fort Lewis College students has become a clarion call to fight local poverty.
Day 5 - Community support
The La Plata County community was moved to action this week by a four-day Durango Herald series about poverty here. The series also had a real impact on local charities and brought to light a change in circumstances in the lives of one featured family.