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My First 100 Days in the Fight Against Poverty

October 22, 2020

City of SF


This week, I looked at the calendar and realized that I’ve come up on my first 100 days at United Way Bay Area as CEO. There is so much to cover, but mostly I’m filled with gratitude and appreciation for our hardworking staff members, who have accomplished so much in the community with fewer resources, all while working from home. At United Way Bay Area, our mission is to fight poverty and create more equitable opportunities for our community. In the last 100 days, that mission has been put to the test. Like so many of you, our staff has been juggling family responsibilities and the inability to see friends and coworkers. We live in unusual times with an unprecedented set of challenges.

Just how challenging have things been in the last 100 days for our region and state? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.


In an August U.S. Census survey, 50% of renters in San Francisco and the East Bay said that they had lost income during the pandemic. Surveys from mid-April indicated that about half of all employed Americans were working from home, but high-income workers were six times more likely than low-wage workers to be able to do so.


According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey, 23.6% of Californians are not currently able to pay their rent or mortgage and are at risk of foreclosure or eviction. In the Greater Bay Area, where we have 970,000 renter households, that’s over 200,000 families who are in jeopardy of losing their housing.


People of color have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Santa Clara County data, members of the Latinx community have accounted for about 57% of cases and 34% of the deaths in the county, even though they only make up about 26% of its population.


The California wildfires have burned a staggering 1,093,000 acres in the Greater Bay Area and Central Coast. More than 4,860 homes and structures were destroyed, and over 210,000 people were evacuated temporarily by wildfires throughout our region, including the recent Glass Fire, CZU, SCU and LNU complex fires along with the River, Carmel and Dolan wildfires in Monterey County. These wildfires are becoming more frequent and more devastating — 5 of the top 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020.

So, in the face of these challenges over the last 100 days, how has United Way Bay Area responded? These numbers look a lot more promising, thanks to the generosity of our supporters and the hard work of our staff and partners.


The Emergency Food and Shelter Program distributed $4,887,842 to 115 agencies in 8 Bay Area counties, reaching over 500,000 people with a meal or a bed in a safe space for a night.


Thanks to the leadership of donors and supporters, we’ve raised over $1,200,000 for our Greater Bay Area and Central Coast Wildfire Relief Fund with our partners at United Way Wine Country, United Way Santa Cruz County and United Way of Monterey County. This money is being distributed to critical front-line agencies to help those most in need.


SparkPoint provided financial empowerment services to 1,128 low-income Bay Area residents to support their basic needs and help them achieve their financial goals. Among those served in this past fiscal quarter, 61% reported that they were experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The launch of the UWBA Rental Relief Fund in mid-July is providing rental assistance to families through our existing network of SparkPoint Centers and community partners. In addition to help with applying for public benefits and other assistance when needed, SparkPoint clients also receive one-on-one financial and career coaching.


Our 211 help line received an astounding 43,496 calls from people in need of local community services like housing, rental assistance, groceries, childcare, legal services, mental health counseling and more. While 211 Bay Area provides hope to thousands every year, it has provided a vital lifeline during the pandemic.


Our labor program in San Mateo County has continued to serve 1,700 families per month via the Union Food Distribution. In October, our Trades Introduction Program (TIP) surpassed 200 placements.


More than 350 people signed up to attend a webinar put on by our Women United affinity group to learn about housing and racial justice from Laura Escobar of United Way Bay Area and Poncho Guevara of Sacred Heart Community Service.


Nearly 100% of the Bay Area was enumerated in the 2020 Census, with 75.7% of households completing the questionnaire on their own. In spite of numerous attempts by the administration to obstruct a fair and equitable count, we surpassed our final 2010 self-response rate by over 3.5%, thanks to our partner coalition across 7 counties. Of the top 10 counties in the State of California with the highest self-response rate, 6 of them were here in the Bay Area.


I’d like to ask you to join us over the next 100 days. We intend to develop a Housing Policy and Program Platform to expand our work of fighting poverty and creating opportunity. We plan to continue to raise needed funding to support our COVID-recovery work, with a specific focus on raising more money for our rental relief fund to help those at risk of losing their homes.


Your vote matters. Please exercise your right to vote this November as we fight for our democracy and a free and fair election for all. Before you go to the polls, check out our UWBA Voter Guide to see how your vote can help create more equitable opportunities as we help our region recover from the triple pandemic of COVID-19, racial injustice, and climate change. Thank you for all you do.