AUGUSTA — The challenges of supporting a family on less than $1,500 a month quickly became apparent — if they weren’t already — to the couple dozen people gathered Tuesday evening at the Buker Community Center.

The group included social workers, health professionals, parents and police officers, all gathered to discuss substance abuse problems in the community. They were presented with a scenario: raising their children on a monthly, after-tax salary of $1,307.

Attendees also received printouts listing a series of costs — $400 for groceries, $750 for apartment rent, $15 for diapers, $400 for two children to attend day care, $20 for shoes, $900 for health insurance — that totaled more than $3,300.

They were instructed to go through the list and begin to consider which items they needed and which they could do without to stay within their monthly salary.

“It might be that you and partner or somebody else is stringing that together. It might be that you have two or three part-time jobs,” said Laura Moorehead, a consultant who was running the exercise for the organization that held the gathering, Health Communities of the Capital Area. “That’s what you have to work with.”

Cristina Salois, agency director of Southern Kennebec Child Development Corp., was participating in the exercise at a table with two other people.


“You can look at this as a list of basic necessities,” she told them. “But at that pay rate, a lot of these become luxuries.”

The purpose of that exercise, and others held Tuesday night, was to put attendees in the shoes of a poor family, so that they might understand the stress of struggling to survive.

The event was the second of two forums held by Healthy Communities, a Gardiner-based group. The first was held Monday night in Gardiner.

Poverty and substance abuse are closely linked, according to Joanne Joy, the group’s executive director.

This week’s meetings were part of a larger project the group has been carrying out for the last three years to find and address the greatest health-related problems affecting the area.

The group now is looking at ways local organizations and agencies can work together to provide low-cost programs and support structures for those at risk of abusing drugs or alcohol or those trying to recover from substance abuse.


It will soon apply for grant funding to continue the project.

Just last week, Mainers received a painful reminder of the damage that can come from drug addiction. Data released by the Maine attorney general’s office show drug overdose deaths continue to climb in Maine, with opioids including heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers at the heart of the problem.

There were 189 drug overdose deaths this year in Maine through June 30, an increase of 50 percent over the same period last year, when there were 126 overdose deaths, according to the attorney general’s office data.

But while opioid addiction is a problem, Joy said at the Tuesday meeting, area youth are also at risk of abusing alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.

Empty bottles of liquor often get discarded outside her office in Gardiner, Joy said, and she has observed several interesting flavors: mint, whipped cream, strawberry shortcake.

“These are not marketed to adults and connoisseurs of good alcohol,” Joy said. “They’re marketed to kids.”


Joy also pointed to surveys her group has done that suggest a general vulnerability among today’s children, particularly those from poor families or foster families, to substance abuse.

Data showed that 63.1 percent of high schoolers from southern Kennebec County, which includes 18 communities from Wayne to Richmond on both sides of the Kennebec River, don’t believe that marijuana is harmful and 42 percent of local high school students said they’ve used electronic cigarettes.

The same survey found that 50 percent of area high school students feel as though they don’t matter to other people.

Later in the meeting, the discussion focused on increasing community connections by increasing shared activities between students and their parents or guardians and by identifying safe places and safe spaces for youths to be with their peers.

After the exercise in which participants were instructed to imagine making $1,307 per month, several local law enforcement officers said they took the lessons on empathy to heart.

Lt. Chris Massey, of the Augusta Police Department, said some officers “can become jaded when it comes to poverty, because of the abuse of the system that’s in place that’s designed to help somebody in this predicament.”


Massey pointed to people that officers encounter who, though poor, wear expensive shoes but don’t seem to have necessities like diapers.

“It’s just the way we’re conditioned,” Massey went on. “When they need us, sometimes we’re hard, but we shouldn’t be. There should be compassion there. People are generally trying to make the effort.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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