The Hidden Poverty of the Tri-Valley

Kaiser Permanente invites participation in an important new initiative

By Marianne Balin, Community Benefit Manager, Kaiser Permanente

"Why would you focus on poverty here? The Tri-Valley is one of the most affluent areas in the nation," asked my incredulous friend. "Because," I replied, "amid all the affluence there are a lot of people who struggle to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and health care. You wouldn't think so, but poverty hides in plain sight in the Tri-Valley."

Helping to improve the health of the communities we serve has long been an integral part of Kaiser Permanente's mission. As the Community Benefit Manager for Kaiser Permanente's Diablo Area, it's my job to identify vulnerable communities in the footprint of our Antioch and Walnut Creek Medical Centers, assess their health needs, and deploy Kaiser Permanente assets to improve the health of all residents. The tools of my trade are grant funding and partnerships with non-profit organizations that provide a safety net for our most needy neighbors. That's how I know that in 2013:

  • Axis Community Health, the Tri-Valley's only community health center, provided free or low-cost health care to over 14,000 low-income patients.
  • Open Heart Kitchen, the Tri-Valley's only provider of free hot meals, served 281,000 free hot meals for residents of Livermore, Pleasanton, and Dublin - people who would otherwise go hungry, many of them children.

These numbers suggest that a there are a lot of residents among us living in poverty.

Kaiser Permanente has a very broad view of health. We believe that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is as important as seeing your doctor for preventive care. And we understand that poverty is a powerful predictor of poor health. Communities living in poverty have poorer health outcomes and shorter life expectancies than affluent communities. A healthy community benefits us all in many ways - healthy kids show up at school, healthy employees come to work and give it their best. That's why we have our eye on the needy residents of the Tri-Valley.

But why focus on poverty in the Tri-Valley now? The 50th anniversary of the federal War on Poverty has inspired an enormous amount of activity across the country and right here in the Bay Area. A recent Brookings Institute publication, "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America," features nearby communities in East Contra Costa to make the point that since the 1960's poverty is no longer relegated to the inner cities and Skid Row. Many low-income people now live in our suburbs, seeking, among other things, lower housing costs. The financial debacle of the past decade forced many of these families out of their homes. Historically, the safety net infrastructure to provide stabilizing support to struggling families and individuals is thin and became even thinner as government funding for local services was reduced as a result of the recession.

Throughout the country and in the Bay Area, we are seeing a movement in local communities to seize this moment and take a look at social inequities. To take advantage of this momentum and to make certain that the hidden poverty of the Tri-Valley Area is not overlooked, Kaiser Permanente invited a group of organizations, Hacienda (through the Hacienda Helping Hands community initiative), the East Bay Leadership Council, the East Bay Community Foundation, and United Way of the Bay Area to join us in raising community awareness about our neighbors who are struggling. Our organizations have a stake in the Tri-Valley and social missions that include the welfare of the whole community. We know that a successful response to poverty takes a whole community and it is our intention to raise awareness and recruit input and participation from many quarters so that we can create measurably effective responses to local poverty. Earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente and our partner organizations hosted a small luncheon, inviting colleagues from local government, businesses, non-profit organizations, and the faith community to consider what poverty in the Tri-Valley looks like and plant the seeds for what can be done. We were overjoyed to find that our guests shared our concerns.

Over the next year, we will be looking at local population data to help us get a handle on who is poor in the Tri-Valley and what services are available to help them meet basic needs and move toward self sufficiency. We hope that you or a representative from your company or organization will join us in our effort to improve the quality of life for everyone in our communities.

To learn more, please contact me ( ) or Hacienda Helping Hands ( ).

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