VoiceBox Media team reflects on poverty in San Marcos, Texas

VoiceBox Media’s team of summer interns spent the past 10 weeks providing in-depth coverage of poverty in San Marcos, Texas. Our first story looked at food insecurity in San Marcos. The second story examined the resources available to youth in the community. The third story provided analysis of the housing situation in the city. The fourth story discussed the job market in San Marcos and how city and university officials are trying to bring quality jobs to the area. This series was produced in partnership with the Austin American-Statesman and Latina Lista.

In the course of their reporting and awareness of poverty in San Marcos, Texas, the team members became close to the topic and the people impacted. Here are their reflections on this issue and how theIn the course of their reporting and awareness of poverty in San Marcos, Texas, the team members became close to the topic and the people impacted. Here are their reflections on this issuey think it might be resolved in the future:

Victoria Robinson

Victoria Robinson

“The poverty in San Marcos is a serious problem. Being a college student in the town, I’ve never been exposed to the high amount of poverty. It’s in the cracks and crevasses that most people skip over ignorantly. I believe it takes everyone in the city, including city officials and those individuals affected, to lower the poverty rate. At 37 percent, it is one of the highest in Texas and that is pretty scary.

Out of the four aspects of poverty we covered, food hit home the most. Speaking with Jamie helped me realize that families don’t receive the amount of food stamps that they actually need. The amount of money you receive is a value that is used by the entire state of Texas and which $511 for three people might be enough in one city, but not another. With nutritious foods being on the pricier end of the scale, families that rely on food stamps or other SNAP benefits aren’t able to afford adequate meals for themselves and their families.

Fixing this problem should start at the top. The city of San Marcos and the state of Texas should start working on revamping the programs already offered to lower-income individuals and families. Creating jobs that will give people a sustainable income and raising the minimum wage could also be a great start for the government. More resources and education would also be beneficial, seeing that most jobs today require some “prior training.” Encouraging those who are less fortunate and raising expectation of all might reduce the number of people living in poverty. All people should be aware of the poverty problem and realize that it affects individuals and families in every city.”

Allison Borthwick

Allison Borthwick

“I didn’t know what to expect when Holly Wise, founder and CEO of VoiceBox Media, announced our project this summer would be to investigate the high poverty rate in San Marcos, Texas. She told me the poverty rate is nearly 40 percent, but that it’s also the fastest growing city in the nation. How bad could it be? I was in for a wakeup call.

The people living in poverty in San Marcos are hurting, hungry and looking for help. Meeting just a portion of these people and the organizations attempting to help them changed my outlook on life as I knew it. Because despite the high poverty rate and those suffering from it, San Marcos is a place that exudes hope. Despite their hardships, everyone we met had a smile on their face and love in their hearts. This observation has made me want to help them even more. We need to find a way to provide more smiles, more security and better quality of life.

We went into this project assuming a big part of the poverty problem would be homelessness and lack of housing. We didn’t know how big the problem would actually turn out to be, though. Because, as it turns out, the city is very aware that there is a severe lack of affordable housing. City officials know the developer codes and infill housing policy is out of date. They know there needs to be more affordable houses built instead of more apartments. They know the waiting list for the San Marcos Housing Authority has been closed. They know people aren’t getting paid enough to afford the cost of living. We know they need to do something about this.

Yes, Habitat for Humanity builds houses that go to homebuyers as a loan that can be paid off, but only five such houses have been built in the past 7 years. That’s not even one house per year. Sure, the city provides forgivable $7,000 loans people can put toward down payments and closing costs, but only 35 families have gotten that loan in the past ten years. So, either people don’t know about these programs or the city needs to do more to help. My guess is it’s a combination of both.

Those living in poverty in San Marcos need the help of the city they’re suffering in. There needs to be affordable/free resources for career counseling and classes on topics like financial management. There needs to be more of an effort to bring in stable, well-paying job opportunities for those with and without the waning luxury of a college degree. The developer codes and infill housing policies need to be updated. More incentives need to be given to developers to offset the lack of profit they’ll make by building affordable housing. More publicity is needed to get the word out about programs like Southside Community Center/Shelter, Habitat for Humanity, San Marcos Housing Authority, Hays County Food Bank, PODER Learning Center and the Greater San Marcos Youth Council.

Bottom line: those who have the power and resources to help need to have more of a sense of urgency to do so.”

Jesse Louden

Jesse Louden

“Poverty in San Marcos has been my entire summer, and it’s been interesting. I’ve been in a community shelter, a youth learning center, a scientific research facility (who will be soon hiring), and more places dedicated to serving the impoverished in San Marcos. With so many places aiding those suffering from poverty, it strikes me odd that the problem is so prevalent. These places are here, meaning people see the issue. It’s not being swept under the rug as it is in many other cities. Why is the poverty rate at almost 40% in the fastest growing city in America?

I think – and this might sound a little out there – but I think it’s the lack of jobs. Throughout the entire summer, we’ve highlighted four main facets of this issue: food insecurity, impoverished youth, housing, and jobs. As we went through each one, it was clear that job-availability was one of the main issues. The food kitchens, children centers, low-budget housing, they were all there. We could go to each one, interview people, and I could capture footage of these things in action. For our final story however, our team had the most difficulty finding people to interview about jobs in San Marcos, let alone finding some tangible images to capture. It’s pretty hard to photograph something that’s not there – ask any Bigfoot enthusiast.

For our first story, we interviewed a man using the facilities at Southside Community Shelter named Xavier Nunn. At the end, when asked about what he thought could be done to help alleviate poverty in San Marcos, his answer was the bone dry truth: give them jobs. We all chuckled, him included, because we were trying to bite back the reality of the situation. I came into this hoping that there was something that the average person could do – and there is (the other establishments I’ve listed aren’t to discredit) – but I feel that the real answer isn’t as simple as donating canned food. It’s the same problem that all of America struggled with from 2008-2012: create jobs. While it may seem a daunting task, it’s not impossible. If America as a whole can do it, the fastest growing city in it can do it too. It’s just that out of all the options, it will take the longest amount of time for a large group of people that very well may not have that long.”

One Comment

  1. Emily Harrison

    tHANK YOU! I recently moved to SM from Dallas and my heart has been so full for the people here. Especially after so many were displaced from the floods last year. I’m so glad to know you all are concerned as well and covering some awesome folks who are doing something about it.

    I’m working on starting a Community Gardens in Schools program with my own funds and private sponsorships with hopes one of the SMISD schools will lend us the space. If you’d like to know more, I got my ideas from this website and they have been so helpful to me thus far. realschoolgardens.org

    Thanks again! – Emily

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