Fifty years ago this month, President Johnson initiated this nation’s war on poverty. Much has been accomplished and yet much is still left to be done. Poverty is at the root of so many challenges that we face as a country. Frequently we get engrossed in many issues regarding child welfare that more often than not would substantially be alleviated if the grip of poverty could be lessened.
In spite of tremendous efforts over the past half-century, Los Angeles County has the highest poverty rate in the nation at 22 percent; nationally the poverty rate is 16 percent. With numbers like these you have to ask what has been the impact of the war on poverty. A typical drive through the County easily demonstrates the great disparities that exist between classes, races, and ethnic groups. Certainly all of the families we serve are indeed poor or are barely surviving against overwhelming odds that place them at risk for succumbing to poverty.
Typical challenges like finding affordable housing, managing an improving but still inadequate public transportation system, accessing good education and child care and maneuvering a nevertheless relatively expensive health care system quickly become insurmountable obstacles when unemployment, disability, and addiction become part of the mix.
For the families we serve, the struggle to avoid poverty is constant and requires their unwavering effort. Nevertheless their stories are of courageous people who in spite of the challenges persevere grateful for the support offered to them and their children. Like perhaps no one else, they know what is required to break the cycle of poverty and are focused on leveraging the services that they receive to create a subsequent generation that is raised up beyond the basic survival they endure.
All the rhetoric about the battle against poverty is empty if the essential services that are necessary to combat poverty are underfunded and easily eliminated. There is no question that there is a corollary with, a poorly funded educational system, lack of access to affordable health care and the rising costs of housing and transportation. These are the fundamental issues often sacrificed in times of economic constraint that undermine the effort of the poor to simply educate their children, live modestly, and sustain a decent job. Is it any wonder that the poverty rate continues to be as significant as it is?
Our efforts at Hillsides, although targeted to address very specific needs of the children, youth and families we serve, become critical sources of support to help them develop the capacity to break the cycle of poverty. Whether it is the individualized education we offer, the array of comprehensive mental health services, the intensive care offered through our residential treatment services or the outreach available to youth transitioning from the foster care system, all these are important pieces in an arsenal to support those we serve as they wage war on poverty.<
Clearly good intentions and grandiose plans have not been successful at easing the challenges of the poor. More than ever this important historic point is an opportunity to learn some lessons and recalibrate our efforts so as to be much more effective. Although public funds are essential, they must be matched with private resources and determination by all parties to never settle for anything less than victory over poverty.