People ask us all the time: “How can we possibly end child poverty?” Here’s the good news: In California, we have the answers. We just need the courage and will to finally bring proven methods to bear state-wide.
In many ways, Fresno is a model for this state-wide approach to fighting child poverty. Thanks to our friends at the Fresno Equal Opportunities Commission, I recently visited the Central Valley and saw first-hand how advocates on the ground are working together to help kids and working families get ahead.
Here are some solutions that work:
#1. Early Head Start
Early Head Start students at the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission center on Divisadero Street, downtown. “We’re getting calls constantly. We’re only just scratching the surface,” said program director Kathleen Shivaprasad.
Eighty-five percent of the brain develops by age three. That’s what makes Early Head Start programs so critical. The numbers prove that these two perfect kids pictured above will develop language skills quicker and learn better concentration in class. Programs like Early Head Start work. The challenge is funding. The state budget opened 16,000 new childcare slots. That’s great. But 1 million kids still need access. The richest state in America must do better.
“We need more. We need more housing for these youths. Our model is working, we just don’t have enough resources,” Chrystal Streets at the Sanctuary Youth Shelter in Fresno.
Chrystal Streets manages the Sanctuary Youth Shelter in Fresno, the ONLY youth shelter for kids ages 12–18 in the entire Central Valley from Merced down to Bakersfield. The shelter provides not only a safe place to stay, but mental health counseling as well as guidance navigating a frustrating bureaucracy. The model works—over 90% of kids return to their families or find a permanent home to stay within one month.
The problem: out of 20 beds in the shelter, eight were empty when we visited. These beds could have helped take kids off the street. Instead, they were left vacant because of a lack of funding. We’re the fifth wealthiest economy on the planet. This is shocking, and there’s no excuse not to invest in helping kids in need get back on their feet.
#3. Workforce Training
Photos of graduates from Fresno EOC’s Valley Apprenticeship Connections. Many of these graduates of the 12-week bootcamp went from no jobs to earning $31/hour. “Working makes them think differently about their whole future,” said program director Lydia Gutierrez.
Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections is a 12-week bootcamp guiding adults, many of them parents, through the skills need to attain better paying jobs. Director Lydia Gutierrez told us that some participants slept in their cars in the parking lot after overnight shifts at the local Farmer John’s slaughterhouse. All so they could arrive for class at 7am. That dedication pays off—literally. Graduates of the program earn as much as $31 an hour with a staggering job retainment rate of 82 percent after one year. That’s almost double the state average for such programs. These kinds of programs are crucial to making parents and their children independent.
While all of these programs from Fresno EOC have been successful, one thing I kept hearing time and again was this: “We need more.” The staff of Fresno EOC are literally changing lives every day — and they could change more if they only had more. More support. More funding. More help. As the Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force continues to make its comprehensive child poverty plan, we will look into expanding programs just like these that empower children and families to take their future into their own hands.
As Jeff Davis of Fresno EOC told us: “We like to think of ourselves as hope merchants. We’re giving the community hope.”
That’s exactly what we aim to do for children across this entire state with this campaign. Thank you for being part of our journey, and bringing hope to the next generation. In order to be successful, we need 100,000 Californians like you to join our movement. Please ask your friends and family to join now. We need you.
Towards a better future for all kids,
End Child Poverty in California