For VOICE: South Alameda County, we met with over 100 residents and service providers, public officials and advocates, congregational leaders and teachers from Newark, Union City, Livermore, San Leandro, Pleasanton, Fremont and Hayward. We want to share with you the lived experiences and stories that were shared with us as we tackle the hard truths of how far too many in this county can’t make ends meet.
Several themes resonated with attendees including public transit and accessibility, affordability, changing demographics, and collaboration and connection – how organizations, funders, government and the private sector must come together to improve equity in the region. Many spoke of poverty and homelessness as a “hidden” issue that goes under the radar and thus is much harder to address and receive adequate support and services for families. Connecting people to the prosperity in the region, and emerging opportunities with the tech industry, were central themes of the day.
Collectively, these listening sessions are an important part of setting the course for our work at The San Francisco Foundation in the short and long term. For our work to be effective, it must be grounded in community, in the voices and lived experiences of the residents. And, the stories that were shared illustrate the very heart of our purpose at this moment in our region, and in our nation.
We feel that it’s a dereliction of duty not to address issues of equity in this region. We’ll be continuing these conversations and we feel the sense of urgency around taking action on things we are hearing.
The very people who are going to be the entrepreneurs, workers, policy makers of the future are the very people are who are being left behind today. Together, we have the opportunity to change the future for our region, and be a model for the nation.
Below you'll find more information about what was shared with us at VOICE: South Alameda County. We also encourage you to check out more photos and notes, and visit bayareavoices.org where you can continue to #ShareYourVoice with us online by submitting a story about your personal experience living and working in the Bay Area.
This is not the end of us being able to engage and share what we are learning with the broader Bay Area. This is only the beginning, and we look forward to taking action together.
VOICE: Bay Area is a listening series taking place across the five Bay Area Counties, hosted by The San Francisco Foundation’s new CEO, Fred Blackwell, and his team to hear firsthand about the daily struggles, challenges, inspirations, and successes of residents as TSFF moves into the next decade of its work.
The topics of the day were discussed using the World Café method. This format brings participants together in groups of four to five for meaningful conversations around a specific set of questions, and participants' deep understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as creative thinking about how to address them. Participants had the opportunity to engage with many other attendees as part of the Café, both in small group conversations and as a whole. Below are the themes and deeper questions experienced in the small group conversations that participants shared with the larger group and a graphic recorder. A Café conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, ensuring that everyone's voice is part of the conversation.
We asked participants: "If a friend were moving to this part of the county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?"
Participants shared the following:
- Strong sense of community and neighborhood resiliency.
- Diversity and richness is our strength.
- Residents in South Alameda County don't realize their own power – the answers to many issues could rest with collective action.
- Affordable education – you can educate your whole family from Pre-K through college for less than other areas.
- South Alameda County has an incredible opportunity to involve youth voices in community conversations.
- Communities aren't telling a story – and they should.
- There is a rich diversity of resources particularly for parents and students.
- Opportunity to build stronger connections – great programs and services available.
- Proximity to BART and public transportation has everything to do with who is getting served in the area.
- Downfall is the silos – we need a navigation system, particularly for those who do not have a voice. Siloed-off diverse communties lead to a lack of collaboration, which hurts advocacy efforts.
- Stigmas exist between communities in South Alameda County – how can residents be "stigma-busters"?
- Predatory landlords are pricing some residents out of the area.
- Despite the relative affordability of education, some people still can't access it.
- Poverty is hidden, and not always neighborhood-based.
- While some programs have learned to work well together, the piecemeal nature of services can be tough to navigate for some residents.
- The recent upturn in the economy is a good chance to test assumptions about what works when it comes to community services.
We asked participants: "What have been the biggest changes (patterns, trends) you have seen in the last five years? Which changes are the most concerning to you? Which are the most encouraging?"
Participants shared that:
In the Schools
- Hayward Unified School District has begun offering health insurance to families.
- Encouraging that the school district is highly involved in individual schools, and that Chabot College has begun offering advanced classes in the high schools. Access to community colleges and their programs has increased.
Massive Technology-driven Change
- Economic shifts in the region, in Silicon Valley, are impacting this part of the region. Resources need to be leveraged and brought back to the community.
- Digital divide grew; there's a lack of digital literacy to do a lot of the things we need to do on a daily basis.
- Many businesses are bringing talent in from overseas, leaving local residents out of work. Need to create a pathway for our local young people to those jobs.
- Massive technology-driven change taking place that creates new power currents and “systems of approval."
Jobs and Housing
- Many people are working well into retirement age – increasing the odds that they will be exploited in the workplace.
- Factories in this part of the county are closing down; political leaders need to fill that void, create economic growth.
- Housing costs have increased, while access for people in need of affordable housing has decreased. An increase in quality of life has come at the cost of displacement.
- Increasingly, simply being homeless has become criminalized.
- This part of the county has become more diverse, and poverty has shifted, but county government, transportation agencies, and agencies have not really kept pace with the changing demographics. Need much stronger cultural competency.
- Poverty is hidden and spread out. Still one of the more affordable areas, but increasingly more difficult. Affordability is a real concern.
- SCOMM and deportations have meant raids, family separations.
- Racial profiling and racism are still a big issue.
- Disparity of resources between Hayward and the rest of South Alameda.
We asked participants, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps or new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?"
Participants shared that:
- Corporations, foundations, and non-profits need to form real partnerships to map community needs and identify resources to help address them.
- Bring together the CEOs of funded partners and engage multiple levels of leadership for decision-making.
- Keep this conversation going by staying connected to one another and building meaningful relationships outside of the room.
- Address the disparity between those who are qualified to vote and those who do vote – how do we encourage civic participation?
- South Alameda County should identify shared priorities to pool funds and get government to fund regional priorities. We need high-level priorities.
- Many people are doing great work - how do we avoid duplicating work? We need to improve how information is shared to ensure that more people can access available services. Let's form a one-stop shop where people are, a hub where we can centralize resources and advocate.
- It's important for non-profits to hold themselves accountable to results, and not just take satisfaction in receiving grants; need to commit to results-based performance.
- Cultural competency at difference agencies, address different cultural needs and cross cultural communities.
Throughout the day, there were a number of ways for participants to share with each other and TSFF. One of those included an opportunity at the end to share one message that they wanted The San Francisco Foundation to hear that they hadn't yet had the opportunity to share.
On a big board with post-it notes, participants shared a number of reflections and messages with The San Francisco Foundation.
Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:
- Build on community strength; support local community based organizations, leadership, and non-traditional careers in the arts.
- Voting is key.
- Need more integrated solutions and responsibility from the private sector.
- Need a central database for all information to be shared with the public.
- Need to address isolation of people grappling with poverty in the suburbs.
- Housing costs have gone up; people are getting priced out.
- Identify and address root causes through policy solutions.
- Encourage policy changes, i.e. minimum wage increase.
- Jobs for youth
- Support neighborhoods with greatest need and opportunity for transformation.
- Fund collaboration to achieve collective impact (mentioned multiple times).
- Support youth leadership development (mentioned multiple times).
- Cultural competency is key; language is a huge part of that.
- Mental illness is a silent public health crisis.
- Need more emergency shelter for families dealing with intimate partner abuse.
- As long as housing costs exceeds 50% of income for low-income families, homelessness prevention – including rental assistance and eviction defense – will continue to be important in preserving existing affordable housing.
- Need regional approach to address homelessness.
- Homelessness can be resolved by creative ideas of affordable housing (mentioned a few times).
- Deeper awareness and understanding of issues and needs outside of urban areas (e.g. needs in Livermore).
- Go to public schools and engage youth and parents in this dialogue.
- Infrastructure is needed to connect across services, communities and cultures.
- Free shuttle service for seniors.
- Vocational training for all ages.
- Community hub for migrant/immigrant families is a huge need.
- Create a list of attendees to share with everyone after the VOICE meeting.
- Share results of the day with electeds in Alameda County to determine regional priorities that can be addressed through funding and collaboration.
- Keep the conversation going
We also asked participants to fill out evaluation surveys of the event – here are some additional suggestions and comments we received:
- The Foundation did a good job of bringing together a diverse group of community leaders.
- There's a need for follow-up events to ensure accountability on solutions to the problems discussed at the event.
- Community advocates were well represented, but more representation from civic leaders/decision-makers would be helpful.
- Great opportunity to meet with other stakeholders trying to make a difference in South Alameda County!