Originally Published: April 23, 2023
United Way of the Midlands adapts to meet our community needs
For 100 years, United Way of the Midlands (UWM) has worked to address our community’s toughest challenges. While many needs have changed, others have evolved and some continue to persist. Together with our network of donors and community partners, we build awareness and deploy resources where they are needed most.
Here are the needs and trends we’re currently seeing:
Poverty is decreasing, but one in three people in the metro still struggle to make ends meet.
While the metro has relatively low poverty rates, our percentage of working poor is among the worst in the country. Data from the American Community Survey shows nearly 70% of households in poverty in our metro include at least one worker. In other words, we have more working families living in poverty than almost anywhere else in the country.
Inflation increases the stress on families and our nonprofit system.
While inflation shows some signs of relief, it is still at a 13-year high. And as prices for essential items rise faster than others — families with limited budgets use less, borrow or do without. We’re continuing to see an uptick in clients seeking help for the first time.
Inflation also puts stress on nonprofits and their capacity to provide support. Food pantries report a 50% increase in clients, food costs are up 30% and donations cannot stretch as far as in the past.
Increased challenges for families and access barriers are creating a mental health crisis — especially among youth.
According to a recent health assessment, 1 in 3 people in our area are now experiencing symptoms of chronic depression, and programs continue to report challenges recruiting mental health professionals to keep up with demand. Perhaps most alarming is the rise of mental health emergencies among youth. One local program is reporting record levels of demand, providing more youth and families with mental health interventions than at any other point in their history.
The number of disconnected youth in the metro has increased from 8,900 to approximately 12,000.
Residential environment, income and a host of other factors can affect a youth’s connection to work and school. Many students served through UWM investments enter support programs missing 40% or more of school. In Nebraska, nearly one in five students missed at least 10% of days during the 2022 school year — making these students “chronically absent” and at risk of falling behind.
The affordable housing crisis is real and continues to persist — but it’s easy to forget how urgent the problem really is in the metro.
Too many families in our area face housing instability. In the metro, more than 53,000 households pay too much in rent. These cost-burdened households have little left over each month to spend on other necessities such as food, clothing, utilities and health care. Furthermore, 98,500 households need affordable housing, but there are fewer than 20,000 dedicated units — creating a gap of almost 80,000 units. So it’s no surprise that housing and utilities represent the highest caller needs among our 211 Helpline requests.
As a community, we are called to meet these moments with perseverance, innovation and a deep passion for one another. UWM is proud to foster a network of organizations that work every day to address social and economic disparities — serving as a champion for a stronger community.
Learn the Signs – Start the Conversation
Millions of people are affected by mental health challenges each year in the United States, and one in three people in the metro are experiencing chronic depression.
To increase our community’s understanding of mental health challenges and reduce the barriers associated with seeking help, UWM has developed a partnership with Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare to expand access to free Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training.
Supported and championed by UWM’s Women United group, MHFA training is a skills-based training course that takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health by improving one’s understanding and providing the tools needed to create an action plan.
More than three million Americans have already become Mental Health First Aiders through this internationally recognized, evidence-based training program, and you never know who your training could help.
For more information or to sign up for a MHFA class, call 211 or go to: UnitedWayMidlands.org/MHFA