North Chicago, IL--April 14, 2014 -- One could almost hear an audible gasp escape the crowd convened on the campus of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science last week to learn about the growing problem of suburban poverty in Lake County. The statistic that gave pause: A 36 percent increase in homeless schoolchildren and families in Lake County since 2011.
Organized by The Lake County Community Foundation and its partners, over 60 attendees participated in a half-day working session on how to better coordinate efforts among multiple sectors including business, nonprofits, government, donors and faith-based organizations to begin to address the issues facing the already strained social service safety net, and how creative and innovative solutions to the massive issue of suburban poverty must be developed in the face of disappearing resources.
The issue will not be easy to tackle. A near-20 percent increase in the number of low-income residents in Lake County in 2012. A near-10 percent increase in the number of residents living in poverty as defined by Federal Poverty Level measures, and a near-4.5 percent increase in residents living in extreme poverty, meaning a family of four must survive on a combined household income of $13,785 or less.
Featured speaker Dr. Scott W. Allard, a professor at University of Chicago's Social Service Administration School and author of the recent book "Out of Reach," laid the stark realities out for the audience that poverty is more than just a temporary, Great Recession phenomenon.
"With suburban poverty growth far outpacing that of the city of Chicago itself, we have to understand that poverty now transcends urban and suburban distinctions," Allard said, quoting statistics compiled by the Social Impact Research Center of the Heartland Alliance Program that put the increase of the suburban poor population at 95 percent.
Allard did, however, have good news for the assembled representatives of private foundations and Lake County agencies, "The suburbs have some strong and vital nonprofits that offer an array of public assistance programs, as well as substantial philanthropic potential and strong communities, and well established faith-based organizations that can be leveraged."
Allard, who has over the course of several years conducted in-depth research on the state of Lake County's social safety net, responded to questions from the audience about local efforts.
"The answer is really that you have to get people into the same room, challenge preconceptions about poverty, do a better job at helping people understand the holes in the safety net and connect donors and service providers to the people who need them," Allard said. "Compared to other counties, well… you'd be amazed at how little communication happens between business, human services, and government, so the fact that you're all here today puts you way ahead of the curve."
Representatives from the Lake County Health Department, Lake County Community Development and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning were on hand to present distinct public private partnerships each has undertaken with cross-sector stakeholders to, in turn, foster multi-agency partnership and planning, improve community health, and work together to tackle economic development issues such as the revival of a Waukegan thoroughfare.
After structured small group brainstorming sessions, dozens of suggestions for moving forward to collaborate on supporting the county's most vulnerable emerged.
"We succeeded in what we set out to do," said The Lake County Community Foundation executive director Sylvia Zaldivar-Sykes. "The theme of this event was to highlight the power that multi-sector, collective action can have on the dramatic and ongoing rise of suburban poverty and just hearing all the conversations going on around me along the lines of 'Well, we're doing this' and 'I didn't know you did that' and 'Let's talk more about…' hints at how much we can accomplish if we all work in concert instead of marching to our own drummers, even if its with the best of intentions."
Ernest Vasseur, the executive director of the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County was struck by how much head-nodding he saw around him as attendees began to connect the dots on the scope of both the issue of suburban poverty and its potential solutions.
"There seemed to be common recognition of persistent problems and gaps -- everything from the decline of communication resources to the need for better data to understand starting points and measure accountability for outcomes -- and an admiration for what is already underway," Vasseur said. "To learn that the Lake County Health Department partnered with The Alliance for Human Services to enroll over 7,000 people -- out of 71,000 uninsured in Lake County -- that's a hugely successful story worth telling. And worth learning from."
"There's tremendous potential to move the needle on these seemingly intractable issues," said Zaldivar-Sykes, "and learning that there are tangible examples of successes already underway, I think, really provides the motivation to create more of these partnership-led successes."
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.
GROWING PHILANTHROPY, BUILDING COMMUNITY