ConnectOC Blog

Help vs. hardship

Posted by: Shelley Hoss on 3/12/2013

Shelley Hoss 
Published in the Orange County Register on March 11, 2013

Outside appearances paint Orange County as a vibrant community filled with happy, active families and a robust economy. But what you don't see on the surface tells the tale for thousands of our neighbors who are unemployed or underemployed, homeless or in unstable housing, and hungry or hard-pressed to provide food for their children.

The Orange County Community Foundation worked with McKinsey & Co. to take a deeper look into the reality for many of these families and found:

·       To rent an average one-bedroom apartment in Orange County, a person paid minimum wage must work 133 hours a week.

·       Nearly half of Orange County students live in families making less than $40,000 a year.

·       1 in 3 Orange County residents is uninsured or underinsured.

·       Only 55 percent of Orange County third-graders read at a proficient level.

These issues are related, becoming a cycle of hardship for our most vulnerable residents – a cycle that can continue from generation to generation if left unaddressed. High cost of living and unemployment create extraordinary challenges for people living in deep pockets of poverty adjacent to great affluence.

Families who struggle with basic needs are more likely to suffer from poor health and well-being, which negatively impacts children's educational achievement.

Lack of education drives lower incomes and limited ability access to meet basic needs, creating a negative cycle that can continue for generations.

Answering these tremendous challenges are the efforts of local nonprofits – representing some of the most innovative, strategic and effective organizations in the nation. And especially critical over the past several years has been the work of “safety net” organizations, working to help meet basic needs such as employment, stable housing and adequate food. Here are just a few reasons why we have so much to be proud of in Orange County:

·       Taller San Jose: Since 1995, Taller San Jose has helped more than 4,500 high-risk youth restructure their lives, finish high school and develop marketable job skills, helping them achieve living-wage employment and health benefits.

·       Families Forward: For families who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, Families Forward provides immediate access to permanent rental housing, transitional housing, homeless prevention, a food pantry, career coaching and health care.

·       Second Harvest Food Bank: The Food Bank serves 478 local charities to deliver food to those in greatest need in our community, distributing more than 18 million pounds of food in 2012 and serving 240,000 individuals each month in Orange County.

The dream of a more vibrant, prosperous Orange County is within our reach. But to achieve it, we must understand and confront the difficult realities faced by too many of our residents. Knowledge about local needs and solutions can guide the ways we plan, act and give. So let's share what we know about what's working, and start working together to make Orange County the place we all dream it can be.


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