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Partners in Progress: Initiative creates one-stop shops for needy families

Community hubs aim to deliver on the War on Poverty's promise, spur economic progress

LOS ANGELES — At the Youth Policy Institute here in an East Hollywood strip mall, low-income moms study for the GED while their kids are in day care in another room. One Hispanic immigrant mother takes her school-age children for after-school tutoring and computer classes.

In another corner of the center, a poster trumpets the progress of the Our Families Save program, which teaches the poor the importance of good credit. It encourages them to open a savings account by matching funds if they maintain it for a year. About 1,300 families are participating so far.

This one-stop shop for families in need requires partnerships among umpteen city, state and federal agencies, schools, businesses and nonprofit groups. But until now, agencies focused on one area — housing agencies on housing alone, education departments on schools alone, health agencies on medical care alone.

Now all these resources are coming together under a community quarterback, and the Youth Policy Institute is one. It’s a common-sense concept that seems so simple, it’s a wonder it has taken this long to become official.

“It’s a paradigm shift in how we’ve approached our work in previous decades,” said Nancy Andrews, president and CEO of the Low Income Investment Fund in San Francisco, who put forth the idea in the book “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities.”

“In many ways, this is the vision that actually returns to the original vision of the War on Poverty,” she added.

The result is Partners in Progress (PIP), a national initiative created by Andrews’ group and the Citi Foundation. It has provided $250,000 grants to 13 organizations in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Connecticut, Illinois and the District of Columbia.

The 13 quarterbacks are in pursuit of one goal: Spurring economic progress in poor neighborhoods.

“The idea of a quarterback — some people call it orchestra conducting — is to harmonize resources,” Andrews said. “If we are successful with this, others in the rest of the country will emulate.”

Going viral

It’s hard to imagine anything going viral in the world of community development, but PIP has.

“We released a YouTube video on the program when it was first announced, and within a week we got 10,000 views,” Andrews said.

And earlier this year, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen cited the book, which Andrews wrote with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, for its promising ideas and advocated the community quarterback model.

“It’s a unique way of doing things,” said Benjamin Faust, manager of data and strategy at the Brownsville Partnership in Brooklyn, New York, an initiative from the national nonprofit Community Solutions. “Usually an organization comes around to focus on one thing in particular.”

His group will use PIP to focus on creating jobs for residents of Brownsville, where 14 percent of its 60,000 residents of working age are officially unemployed and an additional 45 percent have given up looking for work.

“We’re going to implement a 5,000-job campaign in Brownsville,” Faust said, by rallying employers, city agencies and other groups.

“It wasn’t necessarily the lack of services preventing Brownsville from getting better. What was lacking was cohesion. One resident would go to four or five offices in one day to get services.”

High praise

What PIP has done is a put a name to the work many organizations have been trying to do.

“It’s a validation because when you do something new, it’s hard to find the language to define it,” Faust said.

In Washington, D.C., Jubilee Housing is one of the new community quarterbacks. The 40-year-old nonprofit faith-based housing developer provides housing for the poor in the Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan neighborhoods, where costs skyrocketed after gentrification.

“Studios can cost $1,500 a month,” said Martin Mellett, director of special projects at Jubilee. “Almost all our residents are [making] below $15,000 a year.”

Jubilee Housing is using its grant to fund its Reentry Housing Initiative for people recently out of prison. Mellett said the group had to fight a zoning ordinance that allowed only one ex-felon per home. Working with neighborhood residents, other nonprofits, the city council and government agencies, they managed to get two buildings and renovate them to provide 10 units for women in one and 10 for men in another. A credit union opened on the ground floor of one building, which helped gain neighborhood residents’ support.

“This re-entry is kind of a new area for us,” Mellett said. “Having some additional funding and support allows us to do it even further. This grant opportunity is encouraging nonprofits like ourselves to kind of move beyond our narrow mission and see if we can play this organizing or quarterback role with other entities.”

In Los Angeles the Youth Policy Institute is one of three PIP grant recipients. The group is operating in one of the nation’s Poverty Zones, designated under an Obama administration program for facilitated access to grants across 14 federal agencies. The zone will stretch from the densely populated mostly Hispanic Pico-Union district through Westlake, Koreatown, East Hollywood and Hollywood. About 35 percent of the 165,000 people in these neighborhoods live in poverty, up from under 30 percent before the recession. In some areas, 100 percent of youths are poor.

“All of these different initiatives are overlapping, and Partners in Progress is a vehicle that allows us to build partnerships,” said Angelica Solis, director of community development at the Youth Policy Institute. “It really opens up opportunities.”

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