NJTV hosted its latest In Your Neighborhood Community Forum at the Princeton Municipal Building in Princeton this week on 12/18. The forum, themed Princeton’s Poverty Challenge, was moderated by NJTV News Correspondent and Anchor Michael Hill. It included panel discussion with public Q&A that explored the many contributing causes and solutions to area poverty, from challenges in the housing sector; struggles of individuals employed with limited assets; poverty’s long-lasting effects on student education and how communities are fighting to reduce income inequalities, among other topics.
The panel was comprised of Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert; Nelida Valentin, VP of Grants and Programs, Princeton Area Community Foundation; Edward Truscelli, Executive Director, Princeton Community Housing; David A. Davis, Senior Pastor, Nassau Presbyterian Church; Angela Siso-Stentz, Vice Principal, Princeton High School; and Lenora Keel, Social Worker and Coordinator of Student and Family Services, Princeton High School.
The conversation kicked off by addressing the idea of poverty existing in a place like Princeton. Subsidies pay for 10% of the housing in this town and free/reduced lunches go to 12% of public school children. “I think it’s especially challenging to be poor in a place like Princeton where you are surrounded by so much wealth,” said Lempert.
“Princeton is a town where the philanthropic dollar pie has many slices,” said Davis, noting the giving that goes to the well-known University, the local hospital, museum and other places. The services that are required for helping those less fortunate, however, he notes, “do not always represent the biggest slice.”
Currently one in six children in Mercer County live in poverty and according to Princeton Community Housing, 1700 families are on the waiting list for affordable housing in Princeton, and depending upon the unit size, that wait can be as long as 18 months. Another contributing statistic Truscelli noted: 51% of jobs in New Jersey pay less than $20 an hour.
Local programs to help those in need find housing, jobs and food were discussed, as were the challenges for documented and undocumented immigrants in the area. Family food insecurity and absenteeism in schools, which can also result from poverty, was discussed. “We know that if children come to school, there are barometers along the educational pipeline that can help them succeed and really move out of poverty,” explained Valentin. Siso-Stentz said that her school offers breakfast lunch and even dinner to help students in need, citing that kids sometimes remain at school until 10 o’clock at night.
Hill posed the question that many may ask: if you can’t afford to live in Princeton, why live there? Truscelli answered, “Your child can get a good education, there’s access to transportation, there’s cultural resources here. Everything that a suburban and some might say an urban environment can offer is here and it’s in really good quality. So why wouldn’t anyone aspire to live here?”
Lempert expressed optimism about her community’s ability to tackle the issue. “If you can’t solve the poverty issue in Princeton,” she said, “I don’t know where you can.”
NJTV’s In Your Neighborhood is an ongoing public media programming and community engagement initiative that takes public television deeper into the communities it serves than ever before.
Watch the full forum by visiting: https://www.njtvonline.org/collection/in-your-neighborhood-princeton/
Watch Michael Hill’s NJTV News story about the event here: https://www.njtvonline.org/news/video/tackling-an-oxymoron-poverty-in-princeton/