Funds helping to close poverty gaps in S.F.'s Asian/Pacific Islander communities, groups say

Leaders in San Francisco’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities say city funds they’ve leveraged, after their report last year exposed poverty and health issues, have helped make inroads in bringing those ethnic groups closer to parity with other populations.

Made up of 32 organizations, the Asian Pacific Islander Council last May released its first-ever report to shatter the “model minority” myth that all Asians are educated, wealthy and well-assimilated into The City’s American culture. The report, titled “Asian and Pacific Islander Health and Wellbeing: A San Francisco Neighborhood Analysis” found a 44 percent increase in Asians and Pacific Islanders living below the poverty threshold from 2006-08 to 2010-12. The report drew information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2010-2012 and other existing data.

In addition, the report found 7.3 percent of Asians in The City were unemployed, compared to the citywide unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. Almost 30 percent of The City’s poor Asians live in the Sunset, Richmond, Lakeshore and Parkside areas.

After the report, the council identified $2.1 million in funding needs in the first year to expand or create programs aimed at narrowing the gaps, and applied for city grants.

In September, council organizations were awarded $1.3 million from a two-year grant cycle, through a budget enhancement by Mayor Ed Lee. The amount was unprecedented, said Anni Chung, a council steering committee member.

“No one has done what Ed did, which was take the report to heart and then ask staff to analyze it. And when we submitted projects, give this community a little extra help and really fund these needs instead of giving us lip service,” ” said Chung, who’s also president and CEO of Self-Help for the Elderly.

With $96,000 awarded to its hospitality initiative, Self-Help for the Elderly formed a partnership with the City College of San Francisco’s Chinatown-North Beach campus to offer one-month intensive culinary classes to low-income residents, plus custodial classes.

Of the two culinary classes, which had about 15 students each, 70 percent have landed jobs. In addition, 90 percent of the 20 people who were in the custodial class are now employed, said Winnie Yu, assistant director of employment training at Self-Help for the Elderly.

The short-term classes are critical, Yu said, because “oftentimes, people who don’t have skills aren’t able to get jobs and at the same time can’t enroll in long-term education programs because they need to pay rent and other expenses to survive.”

Another council member, West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, received $100,000 for a new college preparatory program for Filipino youth. The center’s executive director Vivian Araullo called the program “groundbreaking” because it’s the first such city-funded program for Filipinos.

Malcolm Yeung, a council steering committee member and deputy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, said the organizations “were basically just trying to hang on for dear life” prior to receiving the funding.

The organizations will receive an estimated $1.5 million this grant cycle, according to Gloria Chan, spokeswoman for the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. However, the council’s asking for an additional $1.5 million to fund programs that took a hit from state cutbacks.

Though the council lacked resources for a follow-up study to determine whether the city funding’s made a dent in the disparities, Yeung said it’s “moved the needle for sure,” although it’s difficult to tell how much.

“You can’t just look at one year, but with continuous investment, I think it will move the needle eventually,” he said, adding the council hopes to conduct a primary research study in the future.

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