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City Heights Photo Exhibition To Be Unveiled At USC Urban Poverty Conference

52nd Street and Orange Avenue in City Heights.
Matt Gainer
52nd Street and Orange Avenue in City Heights.
City Heights Photo Exhibition To Be Unveiled At USC Urban Poverty Conference
GUESTS: Raphael Bostic, Bedrosian Chair in Governance and the Public Enterprise at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USCMatt Gainer, Photographer, "The Heights"

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Images of poverty and City Heights will be a focal point of the conference taking place this week at the University of Southern California. UNC's price center has an ongoing connection with City Heights. The conference will bring in cut poverty experts from across the country to assess the impact of programs as an impact on the war on poverty. The discussion takes place will some embers of Congress have called US poverty programs a failure. I would like to welcome my guests Raphael Bostic and Matt Gainer. Welcome to the program. In the interest of full disclosure price family charitable fund is a supporter of KPBS. Professor, tells about the connection between City Heights and the price center at USC? RAPHAEL BOSTIC: As you know the vice charities have been an important partner partner in investing City Heights. They also have a relationship with USC as well and through that relationship we convince them that we needed to understand how important they have been to the city of City Heights and understand what kind of innovations that have taken place here that could be ordered to the places, the prices were captured with that idea and invested in our center to develop that to the center is really designed to lift up innovations that are trying to change neighborhood trajectories with a particular focus on some of the interventions that of happened in the neighborhood. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In the process of doing that you've done some ASIC research on what is going on in City Heights and the Democratic demographic makeup, tell us about that? RAPHAEL BOSTIC: City Heights is a very diverse neighborhood. It's an entry point for many immigrants from all over, from Africa to Mexico and there is a high degree of poverty in the neighborhood, 27% is by some estimates, by contrast the poverty weight insidiously 15%, the see the poverty neighborhood that has a lot of needs and the City Heights interventions and the innovations that the charities have done and been quite interesting, and the research that we have done at the person or looked at that and the school and parks program that they started, and the evidence there suggests that there are adjustments were in that performed better on reading tests and are less likely to be expelled or concurrence pended there are positive things that we see there, they have many gardens program there for example, and evidence suggests that that program has been important as a computer contributor to reducing food insecurity for families and City Heights, we're doing ongoing research right now but a school-based health clinic project that they have in the idea there is that if we can keep people in the schools, they can get both healthier and performing better and we're hopeful that the research will come out in a positive way in several months. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Matt, you're behind the photography exhibit is going to be part of this conference at USC, will cut of photographs did you take? What was what you wanted to portray in the photographs of City Heights? MATT GAINER: This project is being it incredible opportunity and often times when we talk about demographics and statistics we don't have the opportunity to connect them with faces that they represent and one of the things that I had a goal was to try to represent the Trinity is much as possible and have them in a way at the conference, in terms of faces, names and stories. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you describe your favorite photographs? MATT GAINER: On behalf of two, most of my pictures are simple, and I use a cumbersome camera. They are quite pictures, all use example of one young man named Prince was a twenty-two-year-old who was Artie doing wonderful things and he has had a lifetime of migration and fleeing and he has had a very difficult conflict, he loved to parents in genocide and wound up in City Heights when he was seventeen years old and a few years he has Artie done things to help kids in the neighborhood and to help kids back from where he came from to help go through school and he did incredible things and things that have inspired me about the photographs of the stories behind them in the incredible things that so many people are doing to make City Heights home. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A lot of people have remarked that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the federal war on poverty and there's a discussion on whether or not these programs of work and if you could, remind us of some of the programs that got their start back in 1964. RAPHAEL BOSTIC: A number the programs, Medicaid, job training programs that were developed in the mid-1960s, all of these make it broad safety net, some of the housing programs and public coaching programs, they were all contributing factors to a strategy to try to eradicate poverty and poverty is a very multidimensional issue, clearly there is income and a lot of times it comes down to job training and educational background and insufficient or inadequate access to quality housing or healthcare that is inaccessible to have worst health and then he can do your job, there a lot of things so when you think about how to address and attack the problems, have to do a multi-dimensional way and so, I kind of bristle against all of these conversations about the war on poverty failing because they're too is a look at it, one is if there is a single person in poverty than we lost the war, I think that is actually not the right way to think about it and I think we need to be mindful that all of these programs are subscribed heavily, many families rely on these to live in a reasonable way on a day-to-day basis and so, when you look at some of these statistics if you do not have these the programs the evidence would suggest that we would have a read 50% more families that would register as being in poverty today so there is a real misconception about what these programs are doing and really translating the aspirational into the ultimate metric that I don't think is right. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Biggest the better question to ask is rather than if they have succeeded or failed, what have we learned from fifty years of these programs and if I may suggest something, considering your previous answer, but very will be to get these programs a little more localized and get communities involved in where they want money spent and what they think is important for them. RAPHAEL BOSTIC: There is some of that I think the question that you raise actually works and that's why we're doing this conference am yet but these experts to together and told them not to do any looking back, don't tell us why we are here where we come from, tell us where to go and for job training and education and in community building And policy, with Esther experts to do give us more policies and that we should be doing more of to move the dial and maybe there are some things that we need to do less of and we talked about those things as well quit designed us who have real world rectus nurse who come in and assess the diagnosis and the recommendations of the academics and as you were saying earlier, and met as well academics get into statistics and they get into all of the demographic stuff, we want to ground this make sure that it's real. Hopefully coming out of this conference will have much more about some programs that we need to lift up and figure out how to do it still. To scale. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What have you learned about people from the photographs that you took in City Heights? What you learn about with the people think they need it comes to some support and help in the neighborhood? MATT GAINER: Quite a bit depending on who is talking to and in my work in City Heights, and that everyone from people who arrived as immigrants a few months ago to people who had lived there for sixty years and there are huge number of perspectives that a lot of things that the professors are you talked about, came up in conversation, the need for a Ford was housing and safe parks, for schools that work, access to good food, it worked with things that are really wonderful but the project for me is that you see a lot of ground-level effort to make those things into reality, spur example the community gardens are great example of people saying we need space to grow stuff and I made it happen, there a lot of spaces like that in the community. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know that the focus of the conference is forward and not backward, but there is some members of Congress who have said that the federal war on poverty has created a complicated web of programs that in some cases actually discourage people from getting out of poverty. Do they have an argument? RAPHAEL BOSTIC: Sure there are some programs designed in ways that if you earn an extra dollar that dollar gets removed from your assistance so you're no better off working or not working but we can modify those programs, there proposals out there to do those things and I think it's incumbent upon Congress to incentivize the agencies to do more of that, those working in the admire Obama administration we tried to advance some proposals to change some of the rules around assistance and it was extremely difficult to get all of the ducks in a row and to get the authorization to do that, and so we're all in this together and it's easy to point fingers but I think ultimately we need to acknowledge where there are challenges and we need to find ways to move past that and get people on to self-sufficiency because ultimately, this is America, America is a land of opportunity and we need to do all that we can to make sure that everyone has access to opportunity and choices about how they can live their lives, and that is what poverty is a huge barrier against and that is really what we all need to fight to eliminate. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the persistent problems in urban neighborhoods the lack of supermarkets, areas are called food deserts and City Heights just lost its biggest supermarket, for a problem like that is there anything the government program can do to try to help solve that problem? RAPHAEL BOSTIC: There are some things the government can do to help, you can create tax-free zones and create incentives to reduce labor costs and actually think that more importantly is to make sure that all retailers understand the opportunities that exist in these neighborhoods and all persons is part of a large company that is really needing to think about how it is going to evolve to expect and respond to a rapidly changing marketplace and community, there a lot of smaller retailers and groceries that are finding ways to be effective in neighborhood such as City Heights. Safeway was working in East LOL tell in the Bay Area and found a good one the story was one of their most profitable, but always to be effective and I think that the city and City Heights and USC in the preschool will be working together to try to make those knowledges known. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to and it there because I am out of time. I've been speaking with Raphael Bostic and photographer Matt Gainer, thank you both very much.

Images of poverty in City Heights will be a focal point of an urban poverty conference taking place this week at the University of Southern California.

The USC conference will bring in poverty experts from across the country to assess the impact of programs developed as part of America's 50-year-old "War on Poverty."

The discussion takes place while some members of Congress have declared U.S. anti-poverty programs a failure and are seeking deep cuts in those programs.


“At this critical juncture in our history, it’s time to really reassess and examine which poverty programs work and don’t work,” said Raphael Bostic, director of the USC Price Bedrosian Center and former assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “This conference is about helping inform the national debate on poverty, and providing insights regarding the most proven methods for eradicating poverty in communities across America.”

While City Heights has experienced significant improvements over the last 20 years, 27 percent of residents live in poverty, according to Price Charities.

Matt Gainer, the photographer behind the photo documentary "The Heights," hopes to give a glimpse of what everyday life is like for residents of the ethnically diverse City Heights area in San Diego. Gainer's photos will be unveiled at the start of the conference March 27.

“My project strives to subtly depict the range of people who live in City Heights, the community they nurture and the humanity they share,” said Gainer. “My hope is that these photographs will deepen the impact and broaden the conversations about work being done to improve lives not just in City Heights, but in struggling communities around the country.”

The two-day conference will be held at the USC Doheny Memorial Library in Los Angeles on March 27 and 28. The conference is by invitation only. Media must be registered prior to the event.

Corrected: July 17, 2024 at 2:37 AM PDT
The Price Family Charitable Fund is a supporter of KPBS.