City launches services program

‘Communities of Opportunity’ will use taxpayer dollars and private charity money

Four impoverished neighborhoods will be the focus of a program championed by Mayor Gavin Newsom that seeks to simplify and centralize access to city services.

Called “Communities of Opportunity,” the program’s four neighborhoods were identified last year by The City’s Human Services Agency as containing four of seven street corners in The City where the need for social services is highly concentrated.

The 15,000-plus residents who live in public housing near the four street corners in The City’s southeast sector — Fitzgerald Avenue and Griffith Street, Sunnydale Avenue and Santos Street, Middle Point and West Point roads, and Oakdale Avenue and Griffith Street — are mostly black and low-income, according to city statistics. Three-quarters of the children in those public housing units live in single-parent households or with a nonparent relative. Only 40 percent of the residents age 16 and older are working, compared with a city average of 60 percent.

Newsom first announced the Communities of Opportunity initiative two years ago, and last year he launched a pilot program in one of the four neighborhoods by opening up a brand new community center at the Alice Griffith public housing site. In the 12 months since, program successes, according to Newsom, include employment for dozens of residents, a popular summer program for kids, the distribution of affordable computers and free wireless Internet access at the public housing development.

The core of each of the four Communities of Opportunity is a community center that The City will use to provide social services, somewhat similar to the one-stop approach used with Project Homeless Connect, which matches homeless people with services.

“You go around the corner and there’s a service, but people aren’t accessing the service for many reasons,” Newsom said. “We wanted to put the services on-site, no excuses.”

When fully implemented, the Communities of Opportunity program is expected to cost about $43 million annually, which will come from existing city funding and philanthropic sources. Most of the funding will come from taxpayer dollars, specifically from the budgets of 13 different city agencies, but the program also depends upon private generosity. To date, $5 million has been generated for the program from private foundations, but next year another $5 million will need to be raised, and by 2008, a gap of $13 million annually will be left open for charitable dollars to fill.

Although Newsom has said he hopes the Communities of Opportunity initiative outlives his administration, according to the program’s business plan, the “ultimate responsibility” for the program “needs to be the mayor” in order to transform city administration, secure required public and private resources and “keep Communities of Opportunity high on the public agenda,” Newsom said.

Newsom acknowledged that a new mayor could come in with his or her own plan to eradicate poverty in the southeast sector, and said that institutionalizing the program was one reason he’s considering a second term in office.

History of promises for the Bayview

Residents of San Francisco’s southeast sector are understandably skeptical of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Communities of Opportunity initiative, according to the program’s executive director.

“Administration after administration of unfulfilled promises really created a climate of just hopelessness and apathy in this neighborhood,” Dwayne Jones said.

Bayview resident Christian Evans, 20, remains somewhat optimistic. Evans and some of his friends had been bused to Monster Park on Tuesday to participate in a kickoff event for the Communities of Opportunity program. When the group of young black men saw Jones, they crowded around him with a friendly reminder that he had promised them temporary jobs working to rebuild a local park.

Evans said he has tried to get a permanent job by participating in city-sponsored work training programs, including CityBuild, where he learned cement masonry skills. After he graduated the program this spring, he tried to follow up with various unions and leads but wasn’t able to secure work, he said.

Chris Iglesias, the director of CityBuild, said 80 percent of program participants are placed into jobs. Evans had a harder time.

“I went from job place to job place, and they kept turning me down, so I gave up a bit,” said Evans, who said he now spends most of his days with friends, playing video games.