By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
Despite government statistical figures that show Killeen's poverty level to be at its lowest since 2006, local aid groups are feeling the squeeze of a downtrodden economy.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released numbers that indicate the city's poverty level was 13.2 percent in 2010 - down from 17.5 percent in 2009.
"It paints a rosy picture for the city, but I don't think it's totally accurate for a large portion of the population," said Lisa Perata, housing manager at the Killeen Housing Authority.
The nation's official poverty rate for 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. It is the highest rate of poverty since 1993.
As the nation's poverty rate tipped up, according to census figures, it has fallen in Killeen for the past three years. At its peak in 2008, Killeen's poverty rate was 19 percent.
At the Killeen housing authority, Perata said the number of people requesting assistance has increased this year. She said she has had to stop taking applications for people seeking public and section eight housing. The current waiting list stands at 1,020 people, with most having to wait more than a year. Last year, 840 people were on the waiting list, which doesn't include people who did not submit applications after they learned about the lengthy waiting time.
In collecting the data for the 2010 census, the American Community Survey surveyed 1,000 homes in every city with a population of more than 65,000 people. Killeen was one of the Texas cities with a reported decrease in the amount of households under the poverty level.
In the surrounding communities, Killeen's poverty rate is lower than most surveyed cities. Only Round Rock, with a poverty rate of 8 percent, was lower.
More people also are seeking assistance from the Killeen Food Care Center, which is serving 25 to 35 more families a month than last year, said Ann Farris, the center's co-director.
"It looks to me like we're seeing more people coming to this area, and they're impoverished when they get here," she said. "It's not a sense that it is more of our long-term residents, but people that are new to the area." Farris said the food pantry, which provides 1,700 meals a week, is giving away 100 more meals a week than last year.
Marlene DiLillo, executive director of the Greater Killeen Free Clinic, said a third of the patients needing health care at the clinic are living "doubled up" with other families.
In many cases, those patients have lost their job in another state and have moved to Killeen, which has boasted a relatively stable economy during the downturn.
"The demographic has changed in the past two years," said DiLillo. "People are coming in and saying, 'I am here because I lost my job.' People will have employment documentation from other states that confirms they lost their jobs."
The free clinic also has seen more people seeking free health care because they can no longer afford to pay for health insurance. The clinic saw 500 more patients in 2010 than in 2009, DiLillo said.
The increasing number of new patients at the clinic along with a decrease in funding provided by federal grants is leading clinic officials to turn away patients every day, she said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.
Poverty in Central Texas
City 2010 2009
Killeen 13.2% 17.5%
Waco 31.3% 30.9%
Austin 20.8% 18.4%
Round Rock 8.0% 5.8%
College Station 37.2% 39.7%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Surveys 2005-2010