EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second installment of a four-part series in which The Columbia County News-Times will examine poverty in Columbia County in a time of festivities and giving thanks.
A quiet breeze swirls dirt on an unpaved road as two dogs roam about, occasionally tussling over a dirty rag.
Sitting nearby at a friend's home is William Bradley. He motions from his friend's front porch down the dirt road, speaking of a former schoolhouse that has become abandoned and overgrown with weeds.
As a cool wind lifts another small dirt cloud, a scent of burning firewood fills the air.
Bradley says he doesn't typically have a problem with county services at his home on Old Louisville Road in the community of Campania, but some say the area is known as a no man's land, not being serviced by the city but being overseen by the county because it's just outside Harlem's city limits.
Campania is just one among several communities south of Interstate 20 that some, including city officials, say often becomes dwarfed by the more affluent areas of Columbia County's eastern side. The area, dotted with mobile homes and abandoned structures that threaten collapse, also could be known for having a higher percentage of people living below the federal poverty level in Columbia County, according to 2000 U.S. Census figures, the latest data available.
"The people that need are out there,'' Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said. "And there's no doubt that the vast majority are south of I-20 because the folks can't afford the houses (on the eastern side of the county).''
According to census data, Columbia County had 4,540 people, or about 5 percent of the county's population, living below the poverty level in 2000. A map of those numbers shows an obvious dividing line as to where most of those residents live, that line being I-20.
Areas south of I-20 had 12.1 percent living below the poverty level in 2000, according to the census figures. Out of 7,948 people living in those areas, that means about 961 were considered to be living in poverty.
"There's some high-income folks hidden back in there, but the low-income folks are there,'' Dean said. "And there's a lot of poverty in this side, especially south of Harlem.''
In the easternmost areas of the county near Furys Ferry Road and the Savannah River, the poverty level ranged from as low as 1 percent to 4.2 percent of those living there in 2000.
In the Martinez area surrounding Columbia and Belair roads, the percentage of those living in poverty was between 2.5 and 3.9 percent, the 2000 records showed.
State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, said that he represents areas that are not as affluent as other locations in the county. He said that overall, county demographics sometimes make it more difficult on officials to lobby for state funding for areas south of I-20 because Columbia County, on the whole, is classified by the state as a wealthy county.
"It does cause problems because a lot of the state aid and economic development help are geared toward something called the tier system,'' he said. "And if you're a Tier 1 county, you can receive the most assistance.''
Fleming said Columbia County is considered a Tier 4 county, the highest rating. He said that because areas such as Harlem are in the county, they become lumped in with the Tier 4 ranking.
"It's judged on a county as a whole and so Harlem is in that area, and Columbia County for that area is unable to get the same kind of assistance that other areas get,'' he said.
Compared to the national average of those living below the poverty level in 2000 - 12.4 percent - Columbia County was 7.3 percent better off than the national average.
Dean, whose city lies inside the area with the highest percentage of those living in poverty in Columbia County, agreed that being in such an affluent county presents hurdles to those south of I-20.
"That was the hardest thing for us, getting money through the Legislature before the Republicans took control,'' he said. "...The issue we've been banging the drum on for the city of Harlem is we're a Tier 1 or 2 city in a Tier 4 county. We're a poor city in a rich county.''
In the past, Dean said, such a difference has caused some to feel overlooked like the "red-headed stepchild'' of the county.
"There is a disparity,'' he said. "That's one of the biggest issues we face.''
When it comes to those most serviced by Columbia County's Department of Family and Children Services, the same trend seems to apply.
"Grovetown and Harlem, that's where our tremendous percentage of our clients, our food stamp applicants, come from,'' said Linda Joesbury, the director of Columbia County DFACS.
Dean said that every other month, a Methodist church and a Baptist church within his city holds what they call a Manna truck event, where they deliver produce to those in need. He said that during one of these recent events, 5,000 pounds of produce was given out.
"I bet you we had 110 to 150 people standing in line Saturday morning to get boxes of produce free,'' he said. "The people are there.''
Dean said it's a situation in which funds could be more readily available only a short distance away in McDuffie County.
"If you crossed over one piece of property into McDuffie County, Thomson can apply every year,'' he said, adding, "We get penalized because of the affluency of the other side of the county.''
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