Poverty in plain sight

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COLUMBIA - One of the poor's greatest stresses is transportation.

Around 450 Boone County residents are enrolled in the Missouri Work Assistance Program, which is an offshoot from a federal program.

If the enrollees put in the appropriate amount of state-mandated hours in class, apply for enough jobs a month and qualify financially, they get help from the Central Missouri Community Action Center.

Whether its stipends for gas, money, to properly license a car or a five dollars a day reimbursement for public transportation, those in the program have their load lightened...slightly.

To get a car, you typically need a job, but to get a job, you have to be able to get there. When KOMU 8 asked one man how transportation affected him he said, "Yeah, that's the only thing I think I really be concerned about."

This 22-year-old dad is one is one of the newest participants in the Missouri Work Assistance program at Central Missouri Community Action Center.

After five years in prison, he's had a hard time finding a job and has come to CMCA for guidance.

"They are basically helping me get ready to get a job," he said.

He has no job, no car, lives with his mom and has a six-year-old mouth to feed.

"I just keep my mind focused on my daughter because that's the only thing that ever really kept me motivated."

His goals revolve around shelter and transportation.

"Those two are neck and neck, for real."

If he can stick with the program and meet all of the requirements, he could be eligible for an annual $350 stipend in supportive services.

"A lot of times, we have to sit down and determine what is going to be the best use of that $350," said Deanne Stubblefield of the Central Missouri Community Action Center.

Sometimes the best use of the stipend could be paying for insurance for the car or buying new tires...

"Are the new tires going to help them get to work, or get to that job interview?" said Stubblefield.

Some participants would rather use the stipend in a different way.

"I really don't like to ride for free so I try to give a little gas money here and there," said a 32-year-old Columbia mom who walks three of her six children to school each day before making her way to CMCA to get help applying for jobs.

"It amazes me, the planning it takes just to get from point A to point B, at times. And, on time," said Stubblefield.

The 32-year-old mom walks and she has no plans to buy a car.

"After you pay your bills, you really don't have much to give everybody else," she said.

Oil changes, brake alignments, new tires...they all add up to one thing, money.

"And we always call before we do the work because we don't want it to be too big of a surprise when they get here, obviously," said Brice Cottle, who owns Automotive Specialist in Columbia and said a handful of times a year, patrons can't handle the cost of repairs.

"We know ahead of time and a lot of times, they just don't come pick the car up," he said.

Automotive Specialist has about 10 abandoned cars on its property, but Cottle tries to avoid those.

"We really do try to help. Obviously, we have to keep the doors open so we can't help too much, but we do try," Cottle said he tries to tailor the repairs to absolute necessities.

"We just try to be as proactive as we can to get them back in a car to get them back to work or get the kids to school."

Like Cottle and his staff, the CMCA staff is here to help those who want it.