Waukegan, IL--November 13, 2013 - In an eye opening presentation to Lake County community leaders gathered on the campus of Lake Forest College, poverty expert Dr. Scott Allard, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and Associate Professor at the University of Chicago, said that while the challenges of the county are great, efforts that have been launched and supported by The Lake County Community Foundation aimed at securing the social service safety net are a model for other struggling communities.
Allard, who was hosted by The Lake County Community Foundation, Lake County's permanent charitable endowment, noted that in addition to being likely locations for future job growth, suburbs tend to have a unique set of resources.
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In addition to a demonstrated commitment to funding education, the presence of well-established community colleges and strong religious congregations and communities, the suburbs possess substantial potential to benefit from increased investment by philanthropy, donors and businesses and a focus on advocacy and policy.
"The role an organization like The Lake County Community Foundation can play in a community that has limited public assistance programs and nonprofit organizations working to provide services is one of serving as a convener that can gather these complementary service providers around big goals," said Allard. "It's so important to have a leader that can work across political jurisdictions as well as various service silos like housing, health, food assistance and community development."
Allard pointed to The Lake County Community Foundation's role in incubating The Alliance for Human Services, an organization designed facilitate collaboration among non-profit health and human services providers in Lake County, as a model he will be featuring in his upcoming yet-to-be-titled book on suburban poverty.
"This type of collaboration really emphasizes a community's shared commitment in addressing some of the toughest aspects of poverty and, maybe as importantly, illuminating the shared fate nature of efforts to address a widely misunderstood problem," Allard said.
According to Allard, the common misperceptions of poverty -- that it is strictly an urban phenomenon that disproportionately affects minorities -- shapes popular understanding of the issue and in turn prevents research and journalistic reporting about the struggles suburban communities face.
"We tend to think of the suburbs as a place predominantly populated by working people with good jobs who live in idyllic homes, but that has never been the whole story for suburbs in the aggregate," Allard noted. "There are more people, numerically, in suburbs than in urban areas. And increasing percentages of them are living in extreme poverty with real, severe deprivation and high levels of need."
Allard also suggested that social service organizations do a better job of helping policy makers understand that though city-to-suburb migration patterns have made an impact on the amount of need in communities, the roots of the increased need are not simply a matter of population growth or high post-recessionary unemployment.
"This is about people in the suburbs becoming poor," Allard said. "There has been a dramatic increase in Lake County and the rate of change has been most striking and severe from 1990 to 2010 when we saw the rate of poverty multiply by a factor of five relative to the rate of the population growth. Poverty in Chicago suburbs has doubled since 1990 and the rate suggests that this is not a short term phenomenon."
"Feeding these changes are a small rate of migration from cities, immigration, the rise of single-parent households headed by women and the collapse of the housing bubble," Allard continued. "And while critics of the new attention being given to suburban poverty might say that the increases in need are numerically smaller compared to the crisis levels in urban areas, even small numbers make an outsized impact on organizations that don't have the capacity -- or cultural competence -- to tackle some of these emerging needs."
Sylvia Zaldivar-Sykes, executive director of The Lake County Community Foundation, told the 40+ attendees that the work to bring collective action to bear on the many needs of the community is already taking root.
"When you look at an organization like the Alliance for Human Services, you see what an immediate impact bringing service providers and like-minded individuals from all walks of life together can have on a community," Zaldivar-Sykes said, referring to The Alliance's role in assisting with the enrollment of upwards of 50,000 people for the Affordable Healthcare Act.
"And this is just the beginning," Zaldivar-Sykes said, "Programs like the one we've hosted today that provide expertise and the opportunity to network and share best practices is just one aspect of the leadership role The Foundation is taking in serving the needs of Lake County's most vulnerable residents."
About The Lake County Community Foundation
Since 2003, The Lake County Community Foundation, an affiliate of The Chicago Community Trust, has partnered with donors to leverage and guide their philanthropy to help transform the lives of the most vulnerable people across our county. Together, we have contributed over $2.5 million to 80 nonprofit organizations that support basic human needs, community development, education and health throughout Lake County. By connecting the generosity of donors across Lake County with the most pressing needs of the community, we ensure that our county thrives today and for generations to come.