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New Committee Working to Ensure we are ALL Counted

Written by Tory Russo

Tory Russo, The City of Syracuse’s Census Coordinator for the United States Census Bureau 2020 Census count, shares the importance of every resident being counted.

In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau will conduct the nation’s next census. It happens every 10 years and aims to count every person living in the United States. A complete and accurate count of communities is critical. In addition to providing basic population characteristics of U.S. residents, census data is used to reapportion congressional seats allocated to each state in the House of Representatives, redraw legislative boundaries, and distribute more than $675 billion federal dollars to states each year.

After the 2010 Census, New York State has lost two representatives and more than $1.5 billion of federal funds to our state each year since then. Even a 0.6 percent undercount in 2020 will result in the loss of two additional representatives and could affect federal funding that supports hundreds of vital community programs and services like Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, WIC, Head Start, school lunches, highway planning and construction, and business and industry loans.

One of those programs is the Community Block Grant Development program. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determines the amount of each grant with a formula that considers population and a number of other factors. In the most recent fully-funded year, May 2018 to April 2019, the City of Syracuse received almost five million dollars. This was reallocated to fund programs at organizations including ARISE, Catholic Charities, Dunbar Center, Home HeadQuarters, InterFaith Works, Jubilee Homes, NEHDA, and the YWCA.

The impact of the census on communities is significant – and so is the challenge of counting everyone.

More than 30 of the 55 census tracts in the City of Syracuse had self-response rates below 73 percent in the 2010 Census. This means more than one-quarter of households in these tracts did not complete their census and required follow-up by Census Bureau enumerators, which increased the risk that people were missed. These response rates caused these tracts to be ranked among the “hardest-to-count” tracts in the country.

In an effort to help communities identify hard-to-count (HTC) areas and support the development of communications and outreach about the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau launched its Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM) tool. This map uses data to predict the percentage of households that will not respond to the 2020 Census. Again, more than half of the tracts in Syracuse are expected to have below a 73 percent self-response rate in 2020.

So, what’s being done?

Communities across the country, including Syracuse and Onondaga County, have assembled Complete Count Committees (CCC) to inform residents about why the census is important, how they can make sure they’re counted, and what temporary job opportunities are available through the Census Bureau.

These multi-sector coalitions have been developing outreach plans, focused on reaching people who have been traditionally and historically undercounted, including: immigrants and mixed-status households, migrant workers; refugees; young children, people of color; people in rural areas and people lacking internet access.

The Syracuse-Onondaga County Complete Count Committee (SOC-CCC) consists of more than 20 subcommittees categorized as engagement, government, community, education, or business. These subcommittees have been meeting regularly since August 2019 to form and implement action plans for census outreach in local HTC neighborhoods and communities.

The City is supporting the SOC-CCC by providing trainings and updates, developing communications campaigns and materials, and coordinating activities with community stakeholders. The County is focusing on outreach and education in Onondaga County’s hardest-to-count rural communities, by coordinating with libraries across the county and supporting the formation of Complete Count Committees in towns and villages.

In addition, the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County have been applying for grants to fund a Census Ambassador Program and an outdoor advertising campaign, respectively, and coordinating with state and federal government representatives to better align local efforts.

But all of these efforts require participation and support from organizations and individuals who can work to ensure that residents of every city, town, and village in Central New York know our communities count.

So, what can you do?

  1. Learn more by following the Census Bureau @uscensusbureau and skimming these suggested resources:
  1. Inform and encourage your network by participating in our #Take20 for #Census2020 campaign:
  • Take 20 seconds to record a video explaining why you plan to complete the census and share it on your social media accounts.
  • Take 20 minutes to talk with your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the importance of the census.
  • Take 20 minutes to complete your census in 2020 and encourage your employer to designate a day and time in April 2020 for staff to complete it.
  • Participate in local “Calls to Action” on the 20th of each month. Contact 2020Census@syrgov.net to be added to the listserv.
  1. Apply or help others apply for a temporary, part-time job with the Census Bureau
  • Local census takers will be paid $17 per hour
  • Income won’t affect eligibility or benefit amounts for most assistance programs
  • Certain noncitizens are eligible to be hired
  1. Volunteer with a Complete Count Committee
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Community Needs Assessment Enhanced with ‘Data Dating’; Nearly $120,000 in New Grants Will Help Nonprofits Measure

Enhancements to a community assessment tool, designed by the Central New York Community Foundation, are making it easier for area nonprofits to analyze their programming in real-time, ‘match’ with partner organizations, and evaluate the greatest concerns of those they serve.

Community assessment is a major focus of the Community Foundation’s Performance Management Learning Community (PMLC), now entering its eighth year. PMLC uses grant dollars and peer learning to help nonprofits measure their effectiveness.

PEACE, Inc., a federally-designated Community Action Agency that works to help people become more self-sufficient, joined PMLC last year to continue becoming data-structured from within. The organization’s goal was to help staff effectively track and measure the effectiveness of its food pantries, family resource centers, and programming for youth and seniors.

“The first objective within our organization’s strategic plan is to develop a data-driven culture,” said Todd Goehle, development coordinator at PEACE, Inc. “So we identified emerging leaders across our organization who could take what they’ve learned from PMLC and make it a part of our daily philosophy.”

After a year in PMLC, PEACE, Inc. consolidated database systems, which now allows staff members to collaborate across teams and with external organizations. In addition, the agency benefited greatly from the findings of PMLC’s community needs assessment, a measurement of which life needs—such as affordable long-term housing, addiction counseling, lead poisoning support, job readiness and economic independence—are not being adequately met for those living in poverty. PMLC participants can study responses to the needs assessment by neighborhood or census tract to complete pre-and post-program evaluation.

“When we evaluated the data that we and our PMLC partners gathered, it became clear to us that we needed to double down on our food pantries,” said Goehle. “We found that there is a real need for food and personal items within some neighborhoods of the city, and we need to increase our efforts to get funding that will allow us to increase our supplies.”

This fall, the Community Foundation released a whitepaper that examined the impact that can be made if social programs addressed the nuances within the areas where they work, as PEACE is doing.

Recently, the Community Foundation introduced new online enhancements to the assessment tool, which include access to interactive, real-time results. This allows nonprofits to take their analyses one step further. Nicknamed ‘data dating,’ organizations can quickly identify other participating organizations they ‘match’ with for collaboration, such as to fulfill a client need that they do not offer. The tool also makes information about program measurement accessible by all members within an organization, from front-line staff to executive directors, without the need for extensive training.

Goehle reports that he hopes to use the new interactive features to partner with organizations that have clients reporting needs that PEACE, Inc. can help provide.

“The data that we’re accumulating doesn’t necessarily reflect the community at large,” he said. “This tool gives us opportunities, especially with live mapping, to identify locations where interventions can be made.”

This year, seven organizations received a total of $118,756 in grants to join the next PMLC class: ACR Health ($20,000); Everson Museum ($15,000); Hiscock Legal Aid Society ($20,000); Mercy Works ($20,000); Madison County Health Department ($15,200); Northside Learning Center ($14,956); and Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York ($13,600).

The Community Foundation awards PMLC grants toward data measuring efforts, which include such things as database management and statistical analysis, to help nonprofits track their efforts and look for trends. This in turn assists the organizations in identifying what is working and what’s not, leading to the development of more effective programming and funding competitiveness. Applicants agreed to participate in a year-long learning community in order to qualify for a grant.

Another six organizations are joining PMLC Prep and PMLC Pro groups to learn how to collect community assessment responses and use the new interactive tool in new and innovative ways with $5,000 grants each: Huntington Family Center; On Point for College; PEACE, Inc.; Refugee & Immigrant Self-Empowerment; Southwest Community Center; Westcott Community Center; and Women’s Opportunity Center.

For organizations like PEACE, Inc., the PMLC collaboration is helping form new connections that will benefit the community as a whole.

“Sometimes in Syracuse, organizations tend to work in silos and there are not always a lot of opportunities to meet and exchange ideas,” Goehle said. “This provides us with an opportunity to all get to the table and examine through data how we can work through problems collectively.”

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Paper Just Released: Local Poverty Problems Need Holistic, Data-Driven Neighborhood Solutions

Studies based on federal census data have helped shine a light in recent years on Syracuse’s high poverty rates, however these explorations only tell part of the story. Concentrated poverty is associated with neighborhood crime, wage disparity, lack of reliable transportation, academic resources, fewer recreation venues and more. This leads to a vicious cycle in which each challenge reinforces and magnifies others.

One may think that the characteristics of poverty within Syracuse span all regions of the city. In reality, when you look deeper you can see that the challenges and opportunities experienced by residents vary based on neighborhood. It can be difficult for social programs to succeed in their efforts to decrease poverty if they are not addressing the nuances within the areas where they work.

A recent paper released by the Central New York Community Foundation examines how the use of precise measurements within a poverty index, which compares each tract along multiple dimensions that reinforce one another, can drive meaningful change through holistic yet customized neighborhood solutions.

View the Paper:

 

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Author of “The Color of Law” Visits Syracuse for Community Conversation

FREE Community Conversation with Author of “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America”

The legacy of intentional, government mandated housing segregation has led to Syracuse having some of the highest rates of extreme concentrated poverty for African Americans and Hispanics in the nation. Let’s learn from our history and imagine how we can create opportunity and equity moving forward. Richard Rothstein,* an expert on this topic, will visit Syracuse on Tuesday September 17 as part of an initiative led by Legal Services of Central New York and CNY Fair Housing to discuss housing segregation in our community.

The event is free and open to the public and will feature Mr. Rothstein discussing his New York Times Bestselling book, “The Color of Law” which highlights the intentional and systematic web of laws and policy that codified housing segregation in America, including in Syracuse.  In addition to being discriminatory, this severely curtailed financial, career, and educational opportunities for African Americans and created an extreme wealth disparity between whites and African Americans that continues to widen today.

Mr. Rothstein will be joined by panelists Vincent Love (Blueprint 15), Lanessa Chaplin (NYCLU), and Sally Santangelo (CNY Fair Housing). The conversation will also include a welcome by Mayor Ben Walsh and opportunities for audience Q & A.

In preparation for this exciting free community event, this summer the Syracuse Citywide Book Club brought people throughout our region together to read and discuss Mr. Rothstein’s book: “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America”.  More than 100 people are currently registered for the Syracuse Citywide Book Club, with hundreds more following on Facebook and reading the book on their own.  Individuals can sign-up at www.lscny.org/thecoloroflaw to receive exclusive content and updates.  Everyone is invited to read along with Mayor Ben Walsh and other community leaders at www.facebook.com/syrbookclub.

The 2019 Syracuse Summer Book Club and the free Community Conversation with Richard Rothstein are sponsored by Legal Services of Central New York, CNY Fair Housing, NBT Bank, and Syracuse University College of Law.  To register for updates and exclusive content visit www.lscny.org/thecoloroflaw or for more information contact wrhodes@lscny.org.

*Richard Rothstein is a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute, Emeritus Senior Fellow of the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Senior Fellow at the Haas Institute at the University of California, Berkley, and author of New York Times Bestseller “The Color of Law.”

 

 

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Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Refugees

Between 2007 and 2016, Onondaga County became home to more than 9,500 refugees, consisting mostly of Burmese, Bhutanese and Somalian settlers[1]. That figure includes approximately 1,000 Iraqi and Afghan refugees who were affiliated with the United States military, as well as 250 refugees from the Syrian conflict[2]. A large portion of these refugees turned to local nonprofits for support to establish economic and social-self-sufficiency, long after the initial resettlement period.

English-as-a-New-Language (ENL) lessons and housing assistance are primary support services refugees have access to. While these services are critical, (70 different languages are spoken in the Syracuse City District[3]) and housing remains a difficult process, mental health services are far less common. The lack of adequate, culturally responsive mental health services is problematic as many arrive from countries where large scale violence, sexual assault and persecution are prevalent.

The consequences of these complex traumatic situations linger in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, substance abuse depression, and challenges in family relationships. Refugees are approximately ten times more likely than non-refugees to have PTSD[4] and three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety[5], while access to mental health treatment is limited due to a number of factors including language barriers, stigma and lack of appropriate training of psychotherapists.

To address this, Dr. Rashmi Gangamma, associate professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Syracuse University (MFT), approached the Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters (MAMI) to identify ways in which some of these barriers could be reduced.

Through a series of meetings with MAMI and members of the New American community, an idea emerged for a collaborative approach targeting two needs: training psychotherapy students to deliver culturally informed psychotherapy for refugee populations and training language interpreters to effectively interpret psychotherapy sessions with individuals, couples and families.

“Throughout our work we’ve noticed each family member has experienced different traumas and circumstances and they don’t always adapt at the same speed,” said Gangamma. “It’s important for us to spend time with each family member including parents, children and even extended family to target their specific issues.”

The Central New York Community Foundation provided MFT with a $19,760 grant to launch a free training workshop that brings together interpreters in training from MAMI and her psychotherapy students at SU to learn and work collaboratively. The workshop, launched in January 2019, will utilize the grant to continue operations over a full one-year cycle.

The project will be completed in three phases. Phase one includes planning for the workshop with MAMI and community members; phase two is the actual workshop offered to both interpreters from MAMI and psychotherapy students at SU; and phase three involves a follow-up to assess the impact of the workshop.

“I believe training in conjunction with the community’s interpreters will be crucial for both interpreters and for mental health clinicians in our community,” said Shaelise Tor, a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University who has closely worked with Dr. Gangamma. “It’s been a great experience to work with a multidisciplinary team to craft this training, because we each bring our own areas of knowledge.”

The Marriage and Family Therapy Department at Syracuse University is the only provider of free family therapy services to the community in Syracuse and has been serving Onondaga County since 1969. The department maintains relationships with refugee centers in Syracuse including the Bhutanese Community Center and RISE to provide and assess the family therapy needs of those communities.

In collaboration with MAMI, who has served Central New York since 1998, MFT hopes to build a stronger relationship between its department, interpreters, and refugee populations to ensure long-term access to mental health solutions in Syracuse.

[1] CNY Vitals (https://cnyvitals.org/people/)

[2] CNY Vitals (https://cnyvitals.org/people/)

[3] Semuels, 2015, “The Refugees Who Come Alone”, (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/11/the-refugees-who-come-alone/415491/)

[4] Giacco & Priebe, “Mental Health Care for Refugees”, World Health Organization (http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/293271/Policy-Brief-Migration-Health-Mental-Health-Care-Refugees.pdf)

[5] Hameed, Sadiq, & Din, 2018, “The Increased Vulnerability of Refugee Population to Mental Health Disorders” Kansas Journal of Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5834240/)

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Local Libraries Addressing the Summer Slide

Written by Janet Park, Executive Director, Onondaga County Public Libraries

Janet Park, executive director of Onondaga County Public Libraries (OCPL), explains the learning loss students can experience during the summer and how OCPL is helping to address it.

Every year during summer break, Onondaga County Public Libraries (OCPL) help children avoid the summer slide. What is the summer slide exactly? Well, it’s not as fun as it sounds. It’s actually the decline in literacy and academic skills that children can experience when they are away from school.

Students who don’t engage in continued learning in the summer lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement between academic years. This can lead to a cumulative effect that is a crisis in the making. By the fifth grade, regular summer learning loss can leave students up to three years behind their peers. That is because when children aren’t reading or engaged in educational activities on a regular basis, it’s hard for them to transition back to school when summer ends. In the city of Syracuse, nearly 79% of students exhibited some level of summer learning loss upon entering a new school year in 2018.

Just like playing a musical instrument or learning how to draw, if children don’t practice regularly, their academic skills will decline. Reading just 20 minutes a day can help children avoid the summer slide and keep them on track academically!

OCPL provides a wide variety of free resources to help families stop the summer slide. During OCPL’s Summer Learning program, children and teens can sign up and earn incentives for their reading efforts, whether it be the number of books read or the total minutes they read. Participants get to choose the books they read, so summer becomes an opportunity for young minds to explore their personal interests and hobbies.

Through MyON, available for free through the New York State Library, children up to 12th grade have unlimited access to thousands of eBooks during summer break. If they prefer something more traditional, they can browse the shelves of their local library to check out books. Our children’s librarians can recommend titles for those who don’t know where to start.

Educational programs are also a part of Summer Learning, with something happening almost every day at libraries throughout the county. Many of the events explore the principles of S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). Children are encouraged to ask questions and most of the events involve hands-on activity.

Children come to our libraries to enjoy our children’s spaces, access our resources and engage with programs like our summer learning initiative, but they also sometimes come hungry. During the academic year many children rely on the schools to provide them with breakfast and lunch.  On weekends, school breaks and summer vacation, these children find themselves with no place to turn to get their needed nutrition. Their hunger makes it difficult for them to do many of the simple things that we take for granted and expect from them.

That is why two of our library locations are also summer meal sites for the Syracuse City School District. Free lunch is available to school-aged children at both Beauchamp Branch Library and the Central Library each weekday from July 8 to Aug. 16.

OCPLS is committed to making learning fun over summer break and throughout the year. To learn more about this year’s Summer Learning program, including dates and times, call (315) 435-1900 or visit www.onlib.org/events/summer-learning.

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Parents Get Answers; Children Enter School Better Ready to Learn

Written by Laurie Black

Laurie Black, director of Early Childhood Alliance Onondaga, tells us how the organization introduced a service to the region that helps parents ensure their children are developing to learn.

Most new parents at one point or another wonder if their child is developing on a “normal” pace compared to other children of the same age. It is common for them to question, “Is my child on-track?”

While it is true that all children develop at their own pace, it is also true that there are stages of development that occur at certain ages across the domains of motor, communication, problem solving and social emotional development. Achieving various benchmarks of development in the early years is what we call meeting “developmental milestones.” Developmental milestones provide a general idea of the changes to expect as a child grows.  It is important for parents to know what to expect and what to look for in order to identify potential delays in development. Delays that go undetected in early years can lead to more significant developmental challenges later in life. These challenges can make it hard for children to learn in school and go on to lead productive lives.

The Need for Help Me Grow

It is estimated that 1 in 5 children are at risk for one or more developmental delays and those rates increase with high levels of poverty. Unfortunately, only about 20% of development delays are detected within the first three years of life, leaving many to turn into health, educational and achievement difficulties.

According to the CDC, early, frequent screening of young children for healthy growth and development is recommended to help identify potential problems or areas needing further evaluation. By catching developmental issues early, children can be provided with treatment or intervention more effectively, and additional developmental delays or deficits may be prevented.

Source: Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive- Compendium of Screening Measures for Young Children

In Onondaga County, 24% of children live in poverty1 and only 38% were reading at grade level by 3rd grade in 2018.2 In the city of Syracuse, those numbers are even more alarming. Here, approximately 50% of children live in poverty,3 fewer than 20% enter kindergarten assessing as “ready” in the literacy domain4 and by third grade only 20% are reading on grade level.5 A strong educational foundation between pre-kindergarten and third grade correlates to school success, high graduation rates and low instances of juvenile crime and teen pregnancy.

Given our community’s high rates of poverty, it is likely that even greater levels than one in five children are experiencing developmental delays and would benefit from formal interventions or supports in the first five years of life.

That is why Early Childhood Alliance Onondaga brought Help Me Grow to Onondaga County.

Help Me Grow – Part of The Solution for Optimal Child Development

Help Me Grow (HMG) Onondaga officially launched in January 2019 with funding support from the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York and in partnership with 2-1-1 CNY.  Callers can ask to speak with the Help Me Grow Care Coordinator to get answers to any of their child development questions. Parents and caregivers can ask questions about parenting, child behavior, child development or the location of services that exist within the community. At Help Me Grow Onondaga, we like to say “no question is too big or too small.”“Help Me Grow” is an evidence-based national model designed to increase the understanding of child development and improve rates of screening and timely linkage to services for young children and their families. Help Me Grow is being implemented in over 100 communities in over 30 states due to its ability to effectively link families to an array of early supports that promote optimal child development.

Parents can also access free developmental screening questionnaires on the Help Me Grow website at: http://www.helpmegrowny.org. We encourage all parents, whether they are concerned about their child’s development or they think all things are developing on track, to complete the questionnaires so that they can monitor their child’s development over the first five years of life.  If a child was not meeting their milestones for their age, a parent would be encouraged to talk with their child’s doctor and Help Me Grow would work with that parent to explore resources available to them in the community and share some tips for supporting their child’s development in the home.

Since we launched in January, we have had many parents call us at 2-1-1 concerned about their child’s development.  Many parents need help navigating the diverse and sometimes confusing array of services available. The overarching goal of Help Me Grow is to effectively link families to services that meet the child’s and the family’s needs.

Parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in fostering an environment in which children are able to thrive, eventually developing into healthy adults. Help Me Grow Onondaga is designed to support parents in their role. Our goal is to inform and empower all parents with the knowledge they need to best support the optimal development of all children in Onondaga County. If parents have any concerns or questions, we hope that they will reach out to us by calling 2-1-1 and asking for Help Me Grow.

By catching development delays early, Early Childhood Alliance Onondaga is ensuring that our region’s children are entering school ready and able to learn. And with a strong education, our future citizens and workforce can become economically stronger and more civically engaged, which benefits all of us.

 

More Information

Parents of children birth to five are encouraged to explore the following free resources:

  • The Learn the Signs. Act Early Milestones Moments booklets and the CDC Milestones Tracker App included in the Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! Resources support providers and families in developmental monitoring. The Milestones Moments booklets describe developmental milestones from 2 months to 5 years in the areas of social/emotional, language/communication, and cognitive (learning, thinking, problem-solving) development, and provide suggested activities to support children’s development, as well as information on when to act early talk to the child’s doctors about concerns.
  • The CDC Milestones Tracker App The new app offers interactive milestone checklists for children ages 2 months through 5 years, illustrated with photos and videos, as well as tips and activities to help children learn and grow, information on when to act early and talk with a doctor about developmental delays, and a personalized milestone summary that can be easily shared with the doctor and other care providers.

Source: Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive

Source: Center for Disease Control –  www.cdc.gov/ActEarly

Sources

  1. US Census, American Community Survey, 2017
  2. New York State Education Department, New York State Report Card, 2018
  3. US Census, American Community Survey, 2017
  4. Syracuse City School District, STAR Assessment, 2018
  5. New York State Education Department, New York State Report Card, 2018

 

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2020 Census: The Impact of Undercounting Children

Every decade, the U.S. Constitution requires an accurate count of every resident in America.  The decennial census is a civic duty that is of great importance to how the country is shaped and how federal dollars will be allocated.

Counting every individual, especially children, is crucial to the overall health of a state. While census accuracy for adults has been improving, the undercount of children under five years old has been on a gradual increase. According to The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the net undercount rate for young children is more than three times what it was in 1980, increasing from 1.4 percent to 4.6 percent in 2010.

Undercounting children can be a costly one – denying vulnerable communities a seat at the table when it comes to policy decision making. Like adults, children are counted towards total population numbers, which are used to determine federal and state funding allocations, political representation and the drawing of legislative district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures and local boards. Ultimately, if an accurate count is not achieved, the needs of the children are likely to be underrepresented and vital programs underfunded.

So why is this happening? A variety of obstacles could stand in the way of children being accurately recorded in census responses, especially when they are living in areas of high poverty, where significant numbers of residents move frequently or are new to a neighborhood. Young children in large families are also subject to being undercounted, because they are living in complex households. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that nearly a quarter of the country’s children lived in households with six or more people. In addition, language barriers exist in places where English is a second language, discouraging survey completion.

A new potential road block to completion of the 2020 Census is the planned inclusion of a citizenship question. Such a question poses special risk to cities like Syracuse that are home to several refugee and immigrant communities. These residents are more likely to feel hesitation in filling out the questionnaire, fearing it puts them or their families at risk. This would be the first time in 70 years that U.S. citizenship status would be questioned in the survey. The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether it can be included.

Locally, the Central New York Community Foundation has seen first-hand how undercounting children can impact programming. When evaluating how many children were enrolled in the Imagination Library program by census tract, we found more children enrolled than we thought living in some neighborhoods.

Advocating for a complete count is something that the Community Foundation deems necessary. We will continue to join with our partners locally and state-wide to ensure accurate data is collected so that we can make a lasting impact on our communities.

To learn more about the risks of a 2020 Census undercount, check out https://cnyvitals.org/census-2020-challenges-ahead-for-cny/.

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Lead Poisoning in Syracuse: Bea’s Story

Bea Lea, a new American and mother of three young children, didn’t expect to be fighting another battle here in the United States when she fled her native country of Congo. Her eyes have seen a lot, including the deaths of her father and brother, but nothing prepared her for what the family would endure shortly after they moved into their first home on the Northside of Syracuse.

At first glance, her three-year old son, George, is an outgoing, vivacious toddler trying to keep up with his siblings. However, underneath the smiles and countless conversations he tries to convey is a young boy who has already been robbed of his childhood.

Lea doesn’t remember the exact day George fell violently ill, but she said she remembers being at a standstill, scared of the sudden sickness George was exhibiting. Extreme bouts of diarrhea and uncontrolled vomiting consumed him. Frightened, Lea took him to the hospital where he was later found to have a blood lead level of 32 micrograms per deciliter.

“I kept saying ‘what is lead?’ to the doctor,” said Lea. “I was confused because in my country we don’t have lead.”

The Federal Government banned the use of lead paint in 1978. But the poisoned paint still lingers in walls, doors and porches in numerous Syracuse homes. About 91 percent of homes in Syracuse were built before 1980, according to the U.S. Census.

George has already gone through three very painful medical procedures known as Chelation Therapy. The procedure itself involves the administration of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body. When Lea took her son back to the hospital for a check-up, it had been discovered that George’s blood lead level had risen to 38 and then again to 42 micrograms per deciliter.

“After Legal Services of Central New York educated me on lead in my home, I went back to the doctors and said, ‘I believe my baby is going to die” said Lea. “‘And if my baby dies, you’re going to have to kill me, too, so you need to help me get out of this home.’”

Since the move, Lea says that her son’s blood lead levels are slowly coming down.

“New Americans come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their children,” said Lea. “We are walking right into a new danger in a place we thought would provide us safety.”

Lea has been unable to work because of the constant care that George requires. She expresses that a part of her identity has been lost in all of this, too. George is not currently enrolled in school because of his health.

“Imagine being told your child will never be smart again,” said Lea. “Knowing that your child was born healthy and smiling and he is now changed forever.”

Lea says she wants people to be held accountable for their actions and the government to take measurable steps to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen in Syracuse.

“We need to talk to the government and really do something,” she said. “The landlords of these homes already know that their properties have a problem with lead. If something is done we can put an end to this.”

It is time to eradicate childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse for good.
​Together, we can do better for our children.

How You Can Help

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More Than 800 People Gather Together to Fight Housing Instability in Syracuse

Written by Wendy Rhodes

Wendy Rhodes, Director of Development & Communications of Legal Services of Central New York, tells us how the organization organized the community around an often unknown epidemic in poverty-stricken neighborhoods – unstable housing.

Eviction is a major challenge in our region. Over half of Syracuse residents rent their homes, and 58% of them have a housing cost burden. This means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, leaving less money for food and healthcare and often putting them in the difficult position of having to choose which bills to pay each month. Upwards of 11,000 Syracuse residents face eviction each year, and throughout Central New York these numbers climb higher. Eviction is a significant contributor to housing instability and a challenge that we need to take on as a community.

To address this issue head-on, we at Legal Services of Central New York assembled a coalition of partners around our 2018 Evicted initiative.  From July through October, we challenged communities throughout Central New York to read and discuss the eye opening and oftentimes heartbreaking book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Princeton University sociologist Matthew Desmond.  The New York Times declared it “…an exhaustively researched, vividly realized and, above all, unignorable book — after Evicted, it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing”. The book was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize and as one of the 10 Best Books of 2016 by the New York Times Book Review.

Evicted tells the real-life stories of eight families in Milwaukee caught in the relentless cycle of housing instability. Nearly all of their money goes towards rent yet they are still living on the brink of homelessness, constantly grappling with eviction, unsafe housing conditions, and dangerous neighborhoods. The book also highlights two landlords whose properties and business practices have a substantive impact on the futures of these vulnerable families.  As Dr. Desmond notes, “without a home everything else falls apart”.

Evicted heartbreakingly demonstrates the impossible decisions and challenges people living in poverty face every day.  How do you choose whether to pay for rent or heat if you only have enough money to pay for one?  How can you build a pathway out of poverty when 80%, 90%, or even 100% of your income goes to rent (and your home may be unsafe, unsanitary, dangerous or illegal)?  How is it possible that domestic violence victims are often evicted for reporting their abuser? How can children succeed in school when they are constantly moving, forcing rapid changes in schools throughout the school year and absences while their parents are looking for a new home and moving in crisis situations?  How do children stay healthy when they are living in unsanitary conditions? How does all of this impact individual physical and mental health, and erode social and economic capital in neighborhoods?

City-Wide Book Club in partnership with the City of Syracuse

To present these questions and more, we co-hosted a Summer Book Club in partnership with the City of Syracuse and Mayor Ben Walsh.  The free book club engaged people in neighborhoods across Syracuse and communities throughout our region with important conversations around housing stability.

More than 300 people registered for the book club and received weekly wrap-up emails with discussion questions and thoughts from local leaders which were compiled into a free Readers Guide which is still available at https://www.lscny.org/evicted-book-club/.

Participants encouraged their existing book clubs to read and discuss the book together, formed new clubs for the express purpose of reading and discussing the book, or read the book on their own and discussed it in our virtual book club on Facebook.  More than 100 copies of Evicted were donated to the Onondaga County Public Library, and its eight city branches also hosted a series of book club discussions with special guest Sally Santangelo, executive director of CNY Fair Housing.

Book club participants, including local leaders who contributed to the Readers Guide were often surprised by the scope and challenges of housing instability in Syracuse and how directly the real-life stories in Evicted paralleled the experiences of Syracuse residents.  Reading Evicted was also eye-opening for many participants, especially those who live in the suburbs.  We constantly received feedback from suburban residents that they were not aware of the prevalence of poor housing conditions, instability, and eviction.  One book club in DeWitt/Fayetteville even said they were considering purchasing a home, renovating it, renting to people living in poverty, and being landlords who are catalysts for change by working to break the cycle of poverty by providing safe, stable housing!

Free Community Event with Author Dr. Matthew Desmond

We also hosted a free community event on October 23 at Henninger High School as a culmination of the Summer Book Club.  City of Syracuse Mayor, Ben Walsh, provided a welcome for the evening, and more than 800 people attended to meet and learn from author and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Dr. Matthew Desmond. Desmond highlighted the immense struggles of living in poverty. He expanded upon the personal stories highlighted in his book and illustrated the negative impact eviction has on individuals, communities, and society with compelling statistics and data.  Dr. Desmond discussed another challenge faced by parents, especially black women, is that landlords typically view children as a liability and often refuse to rent to tenants with children. He showed that poverty leaves people constantly on the brink of crisis and seemingly small challenges such as a higher-than-expected heating bill can create an eviction situation. He also explained how eviction has a long tail, creating financial judgements and credit damage that follow people for years and contribute to an ongoing cycle of poverty.

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the Evicted initiative.  One Southside resident, Ms. H, was the first attendee to arrive.  She came by bus more than an hour early to make sure she got a seat. She knew the importance of this conversation and felt validated that people were acknowledging and talking about the struggles faced by people in her neighborhood every day.  Another participant, Ms. A, who lives in Baldwinsville, shared that she had no idea what a devastating impact housing instability and eviction had on people’s lives or that it was a pressing issue in our region.  Eviction was not something she saw in her circle of friends.  Now that she is more aware, she plans to start volunteering with several local organizations working to address homelessness and poverty.

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