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Families Living in Poverty in Southeast Michigan

In our state, 25 percent of kids now live in poverty. What does it mean to grow up poor in metro Detroit? What are their hopes for the future? Local families share their reality.

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One of five children of a single mother, Sanders often found herself home alone tending to her two younger brothers, attempting to shield them and herself from the sound of gunshots just outside the house and the violence often transpiring inside it.

"I'd sit in my room not moving an inch, afraid even to breathe," she recalls.

In that environment, school work wasn't a priority.

"There was no studying," she says. "My mom was not involved or interested in my schooling. All of my teachers always said I had potential, but they didn't understand that home was war."

The three children of Treasure Moore of Redford must do their homework in a different place each week as they travel to a new church, synagogue or any one of the 67 partner congregations that make up the South Oakland Shelter.

Moore's 11-year-old daughter Lyric finds it hard to concentrate on her homework in this new environment.

"My kids are seeing and hearing things that children should not be seeing and hearing," Moore says.

Lyric also has trouble focusing at the new school she had to transfer to when she, her mom and her siblings left their abusive home in mid-August.

Moore's youngest daughter, Essence, 7, has begun wetting the bed and was two hours late for her first day as she struggled to pull it together to start in a new school, knowing no one and separated from her big sister.

The reality of sudden upheaval from home and school is something with which Joy Pote's three kids are familiar. After divorcing her second husband, absorbing debt from their marriage and facing the reality of supporting a family solo, Pote of Clarkston, had to uproot her family to a new apartment, a new school district and a new way of life.

Although Pote works full time as a cosmetics specialist at a major department store, she still makes less than $20,000 a year. A Bridge Card helps her feed her family of four, but because the child support payments she is supposed to be receiving from her two ex-husbands has been factored in, the amount she receives on the card was recently cut in half. The $300 she now gets in food assistance each month is supplemented with donations from God's Helping Hands, a food pantry in Rochester Hills.

"It helps," Pote says, "but it's not enough."

Pote's youngest child, 8-year-old Madalyn, knows what it feels like to be hungry in a home with no food to fill her empty belly.

"Sometimes we don't have a lot to eat," she says. "This morning I had some spoonfuls of chocolate frosting. There was nothing else."

Pote acknowledged that her daughter had been crying all morning because there simply was no food to be had. "It's Mother Hubbard's Cupboard over here," she says.

Nutritional implications

The food that does make its way into the Pote home typically is not of the highest nutritional value.

"I work retail hours, so a lot of times I am not home for dinner," Pote says. "I get things the kids can make themselves that aren't very healthy, but that can be thrown into the microwave or toaster oven."

Lauren Fuller is youth director at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, a nonprofit organization providing food, clothing, education and youth programs. She oversees the center's after-school and summer programs for kids. During a catered lunch that included fresh produce, she was taken aback to hear some of the children say they'd never seen a strawberry before – or even heard of one.

"Many of the children at the center are used to seeing a lot of canned foods," she says. "They are used to foods purchased from a party store. Their family may not have a car, and the nearest grocery store may be three miles away."

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