Just before Donald Trump was scheduled to take office last week, a group of Alameda County volunteers met in an Oakland basement to share grassroots ideas on how to end poverty.
Dozens of residents gathered on Thursday in Oakstop, an event space and gallery in downtown Oakland, to report back on what was discussed in listening sessions held across the county last year. In the cramped basement they set up cardboard displays like a school science fair and happily answered questions about what they heard from the residents of their communities.
Over 100 sessions were held across the county in living rooms, schools, health centers and even barber shops to find out what residents were concerned about and how they wanted their government to improve.
The sessions were organized by All In Alameda County, a branch of the county government started by Supervisor Wilma Chan to more directly engage residents and use their input to shape assistance programs.
Speaking to the volunteers reporting back from their listening sessions, Chan said the enthusiasm from the participants was “a breath of fresh air” that staved off the coming “smell” of President Donald Trump.
“Any kind of change has to come from the bottom up. … I think the only way we’re going to get through this is to work together.”
Chan pledged to take the ideas cultivated in the listening sessions seriously:
“While we won’t be able to achieve everything, we will do our very, very best.”
Brittaney Carter, Deputy Director of All In, said that an informal survey of the participants in the listening sessions indicated that more than half have used Medi-Cal, 30 percent have used CalFresh, and 20 percent have visited a food pantry or food bank.
Sixty percent of the participants made under $15,000 a year and another 14 percent made between $15,000 and $30,000, she said.
Their experience is not unique, as according to the county California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, 23.8 percent, and the highest poverty rate among seniors.
Carter said the biggest issues heard most often in the listening sessions they found were improving access to healthy foods, transportation, quality jobs and mental healthcare.
The All In project has already been doing some work on better access to foods. Some of its programs include helping people sign up for the CalFresh program and pilot programs in Berkeley and south Hayward to run healthy food to people who need it.
Access to good public transportation was also a frequently discussed topic. Ron Halog of Community Resources for Independent Living in Hayward, which provides services and advocates for disabled individuals, said that there needs to be better public transit for disabled people, pointing out that buses sometimes go past disabled people waiting at bus stops when their wheelchairs space is already full.
Others were held at rehab centers where people said they needed better support services. The price of housing was a big issue as was good-paying jobs that could lead to long careers.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also attended the event and said that Oakland is committed to listening and to working toward economic security for all Oaklanders.
Schaaf touted her “Oakland Promise” initiative to provide children in Oakland with savings accounts for college tuition and their parents with financial management coaching as well as a career fair last year held by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which she said provided 350 young men with jobs.
What was learned in the listening sessions will inform All In’s direction for the next year, officials with the program said. More information about All In Alameda County is available at http://www.acgov.org/allin/