PITTSBURG —  On Tuesday, the national organization Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival’s Kansas chapter visited Wesley House for it’s “Everybody's Got a Right to Live” tour.

The group visited Hutchinson, Hays, Dodge City and Pittsburg as part of the tour.

In Pittsburg, the campaigners also visited Pittsburg State University and The Lord’s Diner to learn about poverty in the area.

According to a release from the Poor People’s Campaign, Kansas is one of 28 states participating in the national Poor People’s Campaign’s organizing tour, “a push to highlight the urgent crises facing the nation’s 140 million poor and low-income people and hold accountable the elected officials who perpetuate policy violence against vulnerable communities,” the release said.

Activist Mary Akerstrom said the group came to southeast Kansas particularly due to the recent closings of area hospitals — Oswego Community Hospital in Oswego and Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott. The group spoke about Kansas not expanding Medicaid.
“It’s really shutting down the right to access to health care,” she said. “We also recognize the evils of poverty, racism, environmental destruction, the war on the economy and destroying the moral narrative.”

The group also discussed the “myths” of poverty, working people struggle to pay bills and put food on the table, Akerstrom said.
“I personally grew up with a family with both working at the same time, but still struggled to get bills paid and put  food on the table,” Akerstrom said. “We had many food bank visits growing up, and childcare assistance, education assistance, a lot of borrowed money, a lot of debt.
“As a kid I bought into that myth that my parents made choices and that it was their own fault that they were poor. Then as an adult, with my own children I decided I would go back to school and get a college degree [in education] so I could make my life better.”

Akerstorm worked a part time job in child care and her children were in another child care facility. She said the cost for her children to go to the facility was the majority of her paycheck. “In the United States they haven’t increased the minimum wage in a decade and the minimum wage we have right now isn’t really sustaining individuals with or without children,” she said.

During the meeting at Wesley House, the group and area residents sat in a circle and shared why they came to the meeting and their personal stories.

Each person spoke of their experience with poverty, some have never experienced it but have an interest or is in the position to implement ways to help people dealing with poverty in the area — such as Pittsburg City Commissioner Sarah Chenoweth and Crawford County Commissioner Jeremy Johnson, who both attended the meeting.

Stories included one woman’s “generational wealth” and her family’s decision to have a more distant relationship because she married to someone who was “poor.”

Another story was shared by a man who said he is too fearful to say his last name because his family’s meth addiction and poverty issues.

For others, they work in the healthcare field and they said they see patients who have no insurance and often wait too long to take a visit to their facility.

Pittsburg was the last of the tours for the group this year.
People can learn more about Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival at its website www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.