Despite California’s strong economic growth, 750,000 children under age 5 live in poverty, and they live in nearly every region of the state. Their economic circumstances vary, a new PPIC report finds. The authors of the report, Geography of Child Poverty in California, conclude that approaches that take local differences into account could reach poor families more effectively. In conjunction with the release of the report, PPIC convened a panel of service providers from around the state in Sacramento to describe lessons they have learned.
Liza Bray, executive director of Partners for Children South LA, said her organization uses a “collective impact” model and works with 16 organizations to link families to services in parts of Watts and Compton. The goal is reducing the risk of involvement in the child welfare system. She said the effort began by surveying residents to assess their top concerns. Leading the list: addressing developmental delays in children, housing, child care, and access to social safety net programs such as CalFresh, or food stamps.
Sabrina Kelley, resident services manager of the Fresno Housing Authority, underscored the importance of partnerships and surveying families about their needs. Her organization provides housing subsidies to about 50,000 people, half of them children under 8, in the city and county of Fresno. Her organization learned residents’ needs by initiating neighborhood walking tours. “We just walked the life of the residents,” she said. A conversation with children playing in a vacant lot led to the creation of the Almy Street Playground—designed in a neighborhood workshop and funded after the children wrote letters to the city council and potential corporate partners. Crucial to the effort was a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations.
Speakers at the PPIC event said that local solutions need the support of state policymakers. Suzan Bateson, executive director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, said distributing food—while essential—is not the best way to alleviate poverty. Families are better served by maintaining and funding programs like CalFresh, she said.
“We are absolutely not going to ‘food bank’ our way out of this.”