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State, city leaders host three-day poverty summit in Savannah

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The current poverty rate in Chatham County is 17.2 percent, three points higher than the national average. (Credit: Josie Gregory)

State Representative Carl Gilliard is hosting a three-day poverty summit this week in Savannah as an opportunity for state and local departments, as well as residents, to find out about the financial assistance programs available in the area.

According to 2015 Census data, the poverty rate for Chatham County stands at 17.2 percent. That is three points higher than the national average.

Rep. Gilliard claims that rate is consistently rising, and for areas outside of metro Savannah, like Garden City, the rate is higher than 17.2 percent.

He grew up in Garden City, and has his own experience with poverty.

"My mother and father worked two jobs plus with ten children. So, I knew the have and the have-nots," he said.

As a freshman in the state legislature, he admits in his first year he has found numerous state and local agencies dedicated to helping alleviate poverty in Chatham County and across the state.

Now, he is hosting a three-day summit to bring all of these agencies together for residents to know what resources are available.

Patt Gunn, legislative coordinator for Rep. Gilliard, said one struggle for Chatham County is lack of affordable housing and the high rent.

"They're putting together two jobs so they can pay the rent. They're talking about average rent for a decent place in Savannah of $900 and up," Gunn said.

However, she stated the state offers many types of vouchers to help citizens.

The Department of Community Affairs offers 67 financial assistance programs for people living below the poverty line.

"There are vouchers for women with single children. There are programs for aftercare; there are programs for summer camps. There's program monies to even go back to school," she said.

Rep. Gilliard said many residents are not aware of all of the help that is offered, and that is why he is hosting the summit.

However, "it would be ineffective for us to continue what we're doing, just giving out food, giving out food. It's time for people to learn how to fish," he said.

He simply wants to give people a map, and point them in the right direction.

Rep. Gilliard said the follow up will be in the work, though. He plans on taking the findings from his summit to Governor Nathan Deal in the hopes of setting up a poverty commission.

This commission would act as a one-stop shop, like his summit, to help people across the state break the cycle of poverty.