The six task forces of Durham’s Poverty Reduction Initiative on Wednesday laid out their strategies and tactics for uplifting Census Tract 10.01.
Some ideas were straightforward, such as a fee-free ATM in the neighborhood.
Some were more involved, such as loans for police officers who work in the area to buy homes there as well
Some were specific, such as removing lead paint in old homes, or setting up a telephone hotline for people needing transportation to jobs.
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Some were more general, such as financial literacy training and helping ex-offenders find work.
A number of ideas involved training low-income residents to work in the neighborhood, such as being “energy masters,” similar to master gardeners, to advise their neighbors on making their homes energy-efficient.
One repeated theme was a need for better communication: low-income citizens don’t know how to reach the services available to help them, or even that such services exist. Many ideas involved collaboration with agencies such as Self-Help, the city’s workforce development office, Triangle Transit and the Cooperative Extension Service.
Another theme was making better use of the Holton Career and Resource Center on Driver Street, where the task forces described their plans, such as with extended hours for its computer center and making it a central connecting point for employment services.
‘Year of action’
After hearing them all, Mayor Bill Bell said 2015 will be “the year of action,” sending the task forces out to put their plans in motion and make periodic progress reports during City Council work sessions.
The Poverty Reduction Initiative developed after Bell made poverty reduction a long-term priority in his State of the City address last February. Setting off a “neighborhood by neighborhood, year by year” effort, he picked two “block groups” in Census Tract 10.01 to be the first target area.
Tract 10.01 covers much of Northeast Central Durham, an area where poverty, unemployment, crime and other social ills have been prevalent for decades.
Task forces worked on jobs, public safety, finance, health, housing and education, and came up with a variety of strategies and implementation plans based on door-to-door surveys taken last fall, after some Tract 10.01 residents complained that they felt ignored by a program intended for their benefit.
The public-safety group said more police need to to work in the neighborhood, walking beats and meeting residents face to face and engaging with youngsters as mentors or sports partners.
The housing group suggested regularsessions for low-income homeowners on refinancing their mortgages to take advantage of low interest rates, and coach renters on assistance in buying houses.
The education group suggested a “two-generation” approach to engage both young children and their parents – children attending the East Durham Children’s Initiative’s new preschool while their parents are enrolled in trade-school or GED-preparation classes at the Holton Center. “Helping both generations make progress together,” said task force co-chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown.
Here are two particularly innovative proposals that were described Wednesday night:
The task force on finance proposed Matched Childhood Savings Accounts for every child attending Y.E. Smith Elementary School. Y.E. Smith serves much of Census Tract 10.01 and is the targeted elementary school for the East Durham Children’s Initiative. All students there qualify for free meals in the school cafeteria.
As City Councilman Steve Schewel, co-chairman of the finance group, described the proposal, upon entering kindergarten at Y.E. Smith each child would have $100 deposited into an account administered by a “reliable custodian” such as the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nationwide nonprofit with a Durham office.
Deposits by the student’s family would be matched, up to $100 each year through fifth grade, such that by the time a student finishes at Y.E. Smith she or he could have as much as $1,100.
The money could be used only for education post-high school. “We want to make sure this is never the (family) emergency fund,” Schewel said.
Y.E. Smith enrolls about 70 new kindergartners each year. The account program would be phased in with each new kindergarten class, starting in until all 420 students at Y.E. Smith have accounts.
“It’s expensive,” Schewel said – $7,000 just to start, but a similar program in San Francisco ( http://nando.com/sfktoc) has been a success, he said, and research indicates that children with education savings accounts are more likely than others to get into college and graduate.
Crowdfunding might be one way to raise the money. “It’s a great way to keep kids in school,” Schewel said, and an incentive for their parents to save.
The task force on health proposed training residents of Tract 10.01 to be Community Health Workers, which task force co-chairwoman L’Tanya Gilchrist described as “frontline workers who are trusted members of the communities they serve.”
Gilchrist, who works with diabetics for the Durham County health department and lives in Tract 10.01, said community health workers can bridge “a definite disconnect” between healthcare providers and low-income residents who need treatment for chronic diseases.
The proposal is to identify and recruit “trusted members of the communities” to help access servIces they need and teach patients and their families how to manage their conditions – such as by explaining why particular medications are prescribed – and improve “the quality and cultural competence” in delivering health services.
“Change happens at the speed of trust,” Gilchrist said. “When people experience trusting nurturing relationsships ... health outcomes improve.”
Implementing the program would require money for training the health workers, which could be done through various credentialing agencies in Durham. Once trained, the community workers might serve as volunteers or get modest stipends. The task force also anticipates that some could also use their learned skills later on.
“It’s a program that also provides job to career training,” said Durham Public Schools Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, a health task force co-chairwoman. “This is another way of developing an initiative that responds to the needs of the community.”