Issues

Poverty and Equity

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the heart of the vision held by the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community (WLAIC). This vision is one of a community where all people are welcome; all of our neighbors are safe from hate crimes, abuse, or harassment; and all West Linn residents can have equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the quality of life here. The components of DEI are not merely three independent conditions; they are interrelated factors in a grander equation.

If diversity is to be a strength in West Linn, then we need to be inclusive. All individuals in our community need to be included in the conversations about our collective future. Inclusion implies an equal voice at the table. Inclusion is dependent on all individuals having equal access to the tremendous opportunities that life in West Linn has to offer. If people can’t access these opportunities, then they are, by definition excluded, not included. Equity is the key to real inclusion. Equity requires the elimination of barriers that prevent some groups of people from fully participating in our community. 

Sometimes overlooked in our work is socio-economic status. Many people don’t think of poverty in West Linn as a real problem, and the poverty rate in West Linn is indeed low(4.3%) compared to the Oregon state poverty level of 14.9%. Poverty in West Linn cuts across racial lines, but racial minorities in our community are over-represented in the poverty statistics compared to their representation in the general population.

Some of the connections between poverty and equity are readily apparent, but others are more subtle. One facet of poverty is the need for occasional help with family food supply. Numerous food banks operate in West Linn, including the West Linn Food Pantry. A comprehensive list of organizations providing food assistance can be found on the West Linn Government website at https://westlinnoregon.gov/community/hunger-resources

The free and reduced meal program in the West Linn Wilsonville School District is also related to food poverty. This program provides daily meals to children attending public schools. Hungry children cannot learn and take full advantage of the educational opportunities offered by our public schools. The free and reduced meals program helps to remove this barrier to equity.

Other aspects of poverty are less apparent. Some free events offered around West Linn may only be available to those who have private transportation. Students without readily available transport may be excluded from certain after-school events. 

State educational report cards for West Linn schools show that one of the largest academic performance gaps  is related to socio-economic circumstances. Given the fact that racial minorities are over-represented in the West Linn poverty statistics, socio-economic status gaps will coincide with race-related gaps in performance.

WLAIC is examining the relationship in West Linn between poverty and equity with a goal of understanding how to adjust our own processes. WLAIC is also focusing on promoting effective government and school policies addressing equity barriers, including those related to poverty. Our goal is simple: ensure that policy and procedure are in place so that all of our citizens have an opportunity to fully participate in the community.

WLAIC held a meeting in September 2019 to discuss the topic “How does economic disadvantage impact equity and inclusion in West Linn?”  The summary notes from that meeting are listed below:

The following summary points represent the outcomes from two sets of table conversations on the discussion topic.

Gentrification and affordable housing are clear issues for economically disadvantaged families seeking to reside in West Linn. One participant pointed out the following information related to the number of subsidized affordable housing units in West Linn and surrounding areas:

  • Wilsonville has 600+ units
  • Oregon City has about 360 units
  • Lake Oswego has 76 units
  • West Linn has 10 units

Transportation was identified by both groups as a significant barrier for individuals and families with limited finances:

  • Individuals with no access to a car can face significant barriers accessing local resources ranging from food banks to public meeting attendance and after school activities for students.
  • WL/LO Village assist seniors in poverty and has a local transport system. Understanding their system may inform us regarding possible West Linn wide solutions to publicly accessible transport  

The issue of poverty and barriers to community participation needs more input from those most affected. Several suggestions were offered regarding the development of a better understanding of the actual needs in our community.

  • Contact institutions that interface with individuals and families in economic distress
    • School counselors
    • Food pantries 
    • Veterans groups
  • Participate in activities centered on helping with poverty and meet people directly. 
    • Food bank deliveries
    • Development of a clothing bank in conjunction with a church, and distribution of clothing

Unconscious bias, including racial and socio-economic bias, affects how people are treated and contributes to letting poverty be an invisible problem in our community. Fitting in to West Linn if you or your family are not economically advantaged is difficult.

Finding childcare is a significant problem in West Linn and may contribute to the high poverty rate among women age 35 – 44.

The meeting was very informative and has provided WLAIC with some food-for-thought on issues we may want to pursue.

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