Charles County, Md., just 30 miles south of the nation’s capital, is experiencing record population growth. Housing analysts expect St. Charles, a Planned Unit Development community in the northern part of Charles County, to grow from 56,000 to 87,000 units by 2040. In 2012, The Washington Post recognized Charles County as the eleventh wealthiest county in the nation, up from fifteenth the prior year. It is hard to imagine more than five and a half percent of the population in such a prosperous county lives below the poverty line.
In a rural area positioned southwest of La Plata, the Charles County seat, substandard houses without indoor plumbing and water, sit on land with complicated deeds dating back generations. Charles County Commissioner Debra M. Davis, Esq. (District 2), with the full support of the remaining Board of Commissioners, envisioned a holistic approach to reaching out to this population. In October 2011, interested stakeholders, community partners and non-profit agencies gathered to think “out-of-the-box” about how the county might move citizens out of substandard housing and meet the entire social, psychological and physical needs of each family. It was through these meetings that Vision 2020, an eight-year, anti-poverty initiative began.
Vision 2020 is based on the premise that resources and support already exist in the generosity of Charles County’s citizens and programs. The mission of Vision 2020 is to be a comprehensive, therapeutic support program aimed at attacking the vestiges of poverty in rural areas. Vision 2020 has attracted broad interest on the state and federal levels. From its inception, the program drew the attention of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who pledged his support. Several federal partners also expressed their commitment to helping make Vision 2020 a success.
By 2020, the Charles County Commissioners’ goal is to identify residents, help them move out of poverty, and situate them into long-term, sustainable living conditions by linking them with Charles County service providers. This goal will be achieved through five support areas and objectives: health, housing, education, employment and transportation. The backbone of the Vision 2020 program is the existing network of Charles County providers and agencies that are working already to address the issue of poverty in rural areas.
The Department of Community Services oversees the Vision 2020 program. The department hired a full-time social worker to manage cases and liaison between selected applicants and service providers. Ten households will be identified each year until 2020. From more than 50 applications, the ten households for 2013 have been selected. These households will receive continuous case management support for two years.
Government must meet the needs of its citizens. Good government focuses on lifting up those in poverty and helping them find a sustainable means of life improvement. It is through the generosity and assistance of citizens and established service agencies that Vision 2020 will be a successful government and community partnership. With Vision 2020, it is all about lifting up others and bringing together people with services to make a stronger community.
The Charles County Commissioners are refusing to accept substandard as an acceptable way of life. Charles County residents seeking a path out of poverty will be forever grateful for their resolve.
For more information on Charles County’s Vision 2020, call 301-934-0100, or 301-870-3388, ext. 5100.
Written by Crystal Hunt, Charles County’s Public Information Officer.