Alisha Miller says she struggles daily raising her children as a single mother.
"Trying to feed them, clothe them, get them shoes, I have seven so it's really hard," Miller says. "I don't think it matters that I have a lot of kids, but it does upset me when people count and say, 'Oh she probably gets a fat check,' and I’m like no honey, I don't."
A report by the Center for the Next Generation shows more than 20 percent of all California children live in poverty. In Kern County, 32.2% of children live in poverty, which is up 18% from 2008.
The Bakersfield City School District oversees 29,000 kids. School board trustee Andrae Gonzales says the best way to tackle poverty is through a quality education.
"The majority of our children in our district are on free and reduced lunch, so there's an incredible need out there to support our children in a lot of ways," Gonzales says. “We know kids come in who haven’t eaten all day and deal with different situations at home, so our staff helps the best way we can.”
City schools offer free breakfasts to all its students. One in four local kids live below the poverty level which is around $23,000 for a family of four.
"Traditionally Kern County has a higher poverty rate than the state, the valley communities tend to struggle a bit with that because a lot has to deal with demographics and seasonal workers," says Tom Corson, executive director for Kern County Network for Children. “One of the things we’ve stressed here in Kern County is to end generation poverty, we do that through education, linking people to trade school, we try to give people the tools they need to be self-sufficient.”
Valerie Gorospe, a researcher at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment says in order to mitigate growing poverty issues, communities need to stop pointing fingers and working together to address teen pregnancy and single parent homes.
“We can’t say it’s the school’s responsibility, it’s the parent’s responsibility or it’s this person’s responsibility, we all really need to invest a lot of time and money to beat these statistics,” Gorospe says. “What are the roots of these problems, why is this happening we need to get to the why.”
Alisha Miller says she and her children used to live in the Bakersfield Homeless Center when she first moved to town from San Jose seven years ago. The homeless center’s shelter has seen a dramatic rise in the last two years.
"There’s too many families who are living in cars camping outside doing whatever they need to do to stay together and have a place to live, we have to try and do something to help,” says Louis Gill, executive director of the Bakersfield Homeless Center. “Families line up all the way down the street for meals. It used to just be only single men, now, if you come, you find families and children in strollers just waiting for their evening meal.”
The center’s shelter is full on most nights. Miller says she moved into an apartment with her family once she received assistance from the state.
"It's not just people who are low-income and on welfare, it's people out there who are going to school working and trying to who are having a hard time,” she says. “Prices of food are going up, it's hard to make ends meet, and it’s a cycle of parents after kids after kids just being on the system, and it’s never going to stop unless they do start offering more services.”
Gonzales says a non-profit he founded called Childrens First will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. at Rusty’s Pizza on Auburn and Oswell in Bakersfield to address the issues of local children in need.