Within the San Joaquin Valley, covering the area from Lodi down south to Bakersfield, approximately one in three children lives below the federal poverty line, according to a recent report from the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund.

Within Lodi, much of that poverty is concentrated in a portion of the Heritage District, also known as the Eastside, between Lockeford Street and Lodi Avenue as well as between the railroad tracks and Lodi’s industrial area east of Cherokee Lane, according to Joseph Wood, neighborhood services manager in the City of Lodi.

The report, “California’s San Joaquin Valley: A Region and its Children Under Stress,” identifies four top issues that need to be addressed to help children in poverty achieve greater health and security including increasing access to early education, healthy food, and healthy living environments as well as focusing on equitable land use planning.

“The region’s most vulnerable children are more likely to have inadequate access to healthy food, to live in communities with unsafe drinking water and harmful air pollution, to face discriminatory policies and practices in schools that disproportionately impact children of color, and to be exposed to violence in their neighborhoods,” the report reads. “Repeated exposure to adversities such as these produces toxic levels of stress that can have negative and long-lasting effects on learning, behavior and health.”

San Joaquin Valley is expected to grow faster than the rest of the state from 4 million people in 2010 to about 7.4 million people in 2060. Much of that growth stems from Asians, Latinos, multiracial people and residents escaping the high costs of living in California’s other major metropolitan areas.

The report noted that there were many barriers for those children and their families living in impoverished communities relating to discrimination, social exclusion and language barriers, as well as a lack of representation in planning and policy development.

In Lodi, the census tract with the highest rate of poverty east of the tracks has high unemployment and low median household income. Residents are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, Wood said.

Wood said the City of Lodi is working on trying to come up with solutions to the lack of affordable housing in town by seeking assistance from the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), however grants are competitive and it can take some time before any action happens, Wood said.

In the spring, the city is planning to kick off a new housing rehabilitation program to help make a few modest updates for local homeowners in needs, such as emergency repairs to sanitation and plumbing.

Another idea was to use city-owned surplus property near the water tower to encourage developers to build affordable housing units.

“A ray of sunshine in this is that San Joaquin County Housing Authority has a new director that’s very interested in looking at new opportunities in Lodi to build affordable housing,” Wood said.

Children growing up in disadvantages areas, containing income inequality, underperforming schools and high crime rates, experience limited economic mobility — meaning not many are able to move on to earn more than their parents as adults.

Lodi’s Community Development Department and the Lodi Chamber of Commerce recently worked together to try to build more grassroots efforts within the most affected parts of the community to come up with solutions to the economic disparity from one side of the tracks to the other.

Through asset-based community development training several months ago, several community projects were launched. One led by a 16-year-old works to provide youth in the Heritage District with information about how to go to college.

“One of the ways to improve your condition is to get highly educated,” Wood said. He hopes that those who are encouraged to go to college come back to Lodi and contribute to making the community better.

Valley-wide, agriculture and food processing are the primary employers in the region, followed by retail, hospitality and health care. However, many of these industries rely heavily on low-wage and seasonal workers, including undocumented immigrants who often face poor working conditions and wage theft, the report said.

San Joaquin County produces $3.2 billion in crops while 28.9 percent of children live in poverty. They are not able to pay for the food that they produce, the report said. Many children rely on government assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC and free and reduced lunch in schools. In the county, 65 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced school meal programs. Children in poverty throughout the Valley are also less likely to be enrolled in early education programs such as preschool or transitional kindergarten, which have been tied to later successes in education.

There are many government agencies, including the Lodi Community Development Department, school districts and nonprofits who share their part in bringing relief to impoverished children in the Valley.

Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin County runs a local office in Lodi where they offer services such as parenting and financial literacy classes, community forums to talk about issues in the Heritage District and assistance accessing resources for food, health care, clothing and emergency and temporary housing, according to Lindsay Graziani-Grant, site director for the Community Partnership for Families in Lodi.

Within the same building at 631 E. Oak St., sits the office for California Human Development, which helps immigrant children take care of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) paperwork, and parents get in touch with career opportunities, and drought and rental assistance among other services. They also provide free tax preparation to people with yearly incomes less than $58,000.

The center will be offering a town hall meeting at the beginning of next month to discuss some of the items from the report with community members and share information about services. The date is to be determined.

With the way things are going politically in the nation, Graziani-Grant believes that many low-income residents are fearful of how they will fare if various social services offered through the government are lost. This comes at a time as the cost of living is seeing increases. She has encountered several families who have recently become homeless due to not being able to afford rent.

“We’re seeing things like PG&E with rates getting raised, which impacts families. There’s only so much a few agencies can do,” she said.

The writers of the report agree that the work will not be easy in addressing poverty among children. They advocate for a strong safety net as well as reshaping policies to focus on structural inequality.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.

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