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Residents, organizations walk Lake Merritt to end poverty

on May 23, 2011

Local agencies that serve Oakland’s low-income residents joined community members at Saturday’s 6th Annual Walk to End Poverty, which is designed to draw national attention to the issue of poverty. The day was hosted by the Oakland Community Action Partnership and United Way of the Bay Area, which reports that one in five families in the Bay Area are living in poverty. That number includes 76,000 Oakland residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

Over 300 people attended the day’s festivities, which kicked off with a three-mile walk around Lake Merritt. Participants wore “Walk to End Poverty” T-shirts in a show of support for the day’s cause. At the end of the walk, participants gathered in the bandstand area for lunch, musical entertainment and a chance to learn about what Oakland is doing to solve its poverty crisis.

Next to the bandstand, tables hosted by local social service agencies offered information about job training programs, affordable housing opportunities and how to open community bank accounts.  A few feet away, carefree children chased bubbles and jumped in the bounce house.

Tse Ming Tam, Vice President of Community Investment for United Way of the Bay Area, spent the morning talking to participants and community organizations. He kept his message consistent: having a job is not enough to pull a family out of poverty. According to Tam, “86 percent of families are holding down at least one job. They are playing by the rules, but still can’t make ends meet … and that’s a shame on our society.”

Tam said the number of people living in poverty is actually higher than federal statistics reveal. Since the 1960s, the U.S. government has been measuring poverty by a narrow income standard that does not consider other aspects of economic status, like living in substandard housing, debt or financial assets. “The federal poverty guidelines are really outdated,” Tam said, emphasizing the importance of factoring in other things like financial security and physical safety.

The livable income for a family of four in Alameda County is $50,000 according to United Way. But most households where adults earn only minimum wage would need at least three jobs to meet that income level, Tam said.

The United Way is currently campaigning to cut the number of families living in poverty in half by 2020. The group plans to address all the challenges faced by families that national poverty statistics do not consider. This includes helping parents earn a livable income, a good credit score, savings equal to at least three months of living expenses and debt less than 40 percent of their monthly income.

Tam said they are working on reaching this goal with SparkPoint Centers, which offer low-income families services for creating budgets as well as training in high-demand jobs, like in the green industry. Four centers are already open in the Bay Area, with another four scheduled to open in the next couple of years.

The warm, cloudless day at Lake Merritt brought out the regular weekend joggers and walkers who shared the path with hundreds of “Walk to End Poverty” participants.

At the end of the walk, the participants were greeted with high-fives from students from the Prescott Circus School. Dressed in colorful clown costumes and face paint, the students balanced on stilts as they reached down to meet the hands of children on bikes, parents with strollers and friends at the end of the race.

Anthony Calarco, an Alameda County Child Protective Services worker, sat on a bench at the finish line also waiting to congratulate the walkers returning from the three-mile loop around Lake Merritt. “This is the community I work in,” he said. “I’m happy to be out here supporting Oakland in my free time.”

District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel ended the walk accompanied by two old friends she had a chance to chat and catch up with as they did a lap around the lake. Shortly afterwards, Nadel announced from the bandstand stage, “We’re here to end poverty.” She spoke about class injustice in Oakland and the imbalance of wealth in the community. “We need to go after the big culprits that keep making our poor, poorer.”

The morning wrapped up with lunch and live entertainment by local musicians D’Wayne Wiggins and Pop Lyfe, performing alongside Aztec drummers and senior line dancers.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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