From the L.A. Daily News
Needy aren't aware they can apply, qualify for public food assistance
by Christina Villacorte
Every morning, about 100 people line up at the Pacoima food bank of Meet Each Need with Dignity before the doors even open.
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Once inside, they collect fruits, vegetables, rice, bread, cereal, juice and other donated goods, stuffing it into bags and even strollers, to stave off hunger for at least another week.
"My husband lost his job two years ago, and we have three kids," Thelma de Leon, 39, said while putting food into a cardboard box.
The circumstances may not have to be so dire. Many needy people who line up for assistance at food banks and elsewhere aren't aware that they can also qualify for public food assistance, or are too embarrassed to apply, according to program officials.
Only about half of the eligible families in Los Angeles County apply for food benefits under the CalFresh program.
"Here are benefits available, but they're not taking advantage of it," said Sheryl Spiller, acting director of the county Department of Public Social Services, which administers the program locally.
CalFresh does not use food stamps anymore but instead provides low-income households with federally funded debit cards, also known as Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT cards, that can be used to buy food.
An individual making less than $1,180 a month could collect up to $200 a month in CalFresh benefits. A family with four members can get as much as $668 a month, if their monthly income falls short of $2,422.
Spiller said a record 1 million Los Angeles County households received almost $2 billion in CalFresh benefits from the federal government last year - money that was spent on local groceries and supermarkets.
She added if all eligible households in the county collected CalFresh, that amount would go up to $4 billion.
"That's a lot of money that could be used to help create jobs," Spiller said.
MEND Assistant Director Luke Ippoliti said CalFresh could also ease the burden on food banks.
"It would leave us with extra resources," he said. "And it would let us focus more time and energy on programs that empower and educate families."
But Will Hernandez, director of the Valley Food Bank in Pacoima, said there's a stigma associated with what used to be known as food stamps.
"Pride is a great deterrent," he said. "The older generation will absolutely not avail themselves of it because they associate it with having to use coupons and holding up the line at the store."
"It's embarrassing for them, even though they wouldn't actually use food stamps anymore but a debit card."
Monica Navarro, a client and staffer at MEND, said she receives $725 a month from CalFresh but hesitated to apply at first because of misconceptions about the program.
"I thought maybe my kids would have to pay for it when they grow up," she said. "I thought it was like a loan."
Spiller said many illegal immigrants also have misconceptions that seeking CalFresh would lead to their deportation, or harm their chances of ever becoming citizens. While illegal immigrants are not eligible for the program, they can apply for benefits without repercussion for family members with legal residence, such as their children.
DPSS has launched a campaign to raise awareness about CalFresh but, in the meantime, food banks have resorted to portion control.
"We used to have a surplus but now we're just making sure that everybody gets some food," Hernandez said. "We can't give out seconds."
From Google News
New Haven police budget allows for 467 officers, no community communications manager
by Alexandra Sanders
NEW HAVEN — The Board of Aldermen's Finance Committee unanimously approved an ordinance amendment that would limit sworn police ranks to 467, but they balked at the chief's request to hire a new community communications manager.
Earlier this week, Police Chief Dean Esserman sat in front of the Finance Committee and asked them to cap sworn ranks at 467 to help fill 86 vacancies the department has, and create a new community communications manager who would help the department with Freedom of Information requests, press inquiries and pro-active communication with block watches, management teams and other community groups.
Adding a position would bring the number of civilians in the department to 58, but the committee approved the ordinance amendment excluding that position.
Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts explained that Public Communication Officer David Hartman would continue with communications duties but they would be more internal, while the new person would reach out to the public more.
“We are giving the chief everything he wants except for the community position,” said Aldermanic President Jorge Perez, ward 5.
With more officers, the police force will be able to fully staff car beats and double walking beats from 20 to 40. Several Finance Committee members said literal face time like the community sees with walking beats is what keeps crime low, not someone stationed in a chair behind a computer at 1 Union Ave. using things like Facebook and Twitter for outreach.
“We have walking beats and community managers. And communication is best when localized,” said Alderman Al Paolillo, ward 17 “The district managers are still the best supervisors where community policing concepts come in.”
Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker noted that excluding the position from the vote doesn't mean the position can never be created, just that Thursday's meeting was not the best time to approve that move, especially while they are still looking at a tight budget.
“I get the feeling that for the first or second time we will end up in a deficit,” said Perez. “This is not a time to be creating new positions when we have a deficit and we may have to take drastic measures to balance the budget.”
Migdalia Castro, Ward 16 alderwoman, echoed his concerns and added that she has heard loud and clear from constituents that they don't want increases. Furthermore, many of them wouldn't be able to connect with the new communications officer because they can't afford Internet or a computer.
Several aldermen countered that in the wake 34 homicides last year, the police chief should get everything he asks for if it means reducing the violence.
“For a very long time there has been a disconnect between law enforcement and the community,” said Ward 22 Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison. “If we do have a point person to re-establish block watches and identify hot spots within wards … we can deal with him instead of needing to go through the police.”
Doug Hausladen, Ward 7 alderman, pointed out that there has not been an official job description drafted for the requested position, but when that information is available perhaps the position should be considered if it helps facilitate community policing and keeps the crime rate low in New Haven.
San Jose officials worry about combination of spike in gang violence, Cinco de Mayo
by Mark Gomez and Joe Rodriguez
San Jose officials and community activists are worried a spike in gang violence and the large crowds that usually gather downtown to celebrate Cinco de Mayo could be a dangerous combination this weekend.
The popular Mexican holiday falls on Saturday, just days after police revealed that a 14-year-old boy was beaten to death in a central San Jose park in what police are investigating as a gang-related homicide. The killing at Roosevelt Park was the latest in a string of recent gang-related stabbings and beatings.
"It's been brewing out there on the streets," said Mario Maciel, an official with the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force. "There have been lots of incidents that were not homicides. The signs have been there. We've seen it on school campuses and around our community centers."
Although the annual Cinco de Mayo parade and festival in downtown were canceled after 2010, the area's popular nightspots continue to draw thousands. Police plan to blanket the area with a heavy presence and prevent rowdy celebrants from moving their party to East San Jose after the downtown nightspots close.
Meanwhile, gang intervention experts are working behind the scenes to defuse tensions among gangs that may have been involved at Roosevelt Park.
However, police Chief Chris Moore said there's no reason to believe the killing at the park will combine with Cinco de Mayo to produce an explosive formula on the streets.
"Obviously, any time you have a loss like that, you are going to have more tension," he said. "But that one incident is not going to affect the overall level of gang activity throughout the city."
While Cinco de Mayo is mostly celebrated reverently throughout the region with dance, music and history lessons, the Mexican holiday -- fueled by drinking -- also attracts all manner of street gangs and individuals looking for trouble. Maciel also noted that the huge San Jose crowds attract Norteño gang members from Gilroy and other local towns and from as far away as Lodi in the Central Valley.
"Everyone wants to come into San Jose," said Maciel, "so the potential heightens."
Gang hot spots
Holiday or no holiday, Roosevelt Park residents worry that unchecked youth gangs could take back the park the neighborhood struggled for years to clean up.
"People in Roosevelt and surrounding neighborhoods are worried that gangs are active in the park and throughout our neighborhoods," Dulcey Branch, president of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association said in an email. "However, gang activity is not a surprise to us. Daily we identify taunting gang graffiti and report it for clean up or clean it up ourselves in order to prevent inter-gang violence."
After millions of tax dollars in park improvements and years of community policing strategies during the 1990s, the neighborhood gradually won back the urban park located at the intersection of Santa Clara and 21st streets.
But gang activity there is on the rise. Roosevelt Park is back on the official list of gang "hot spots," according to city Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents the area.
"We recognize that the loss of one teenager can spark violence in other parts of the city," said Liccardo, "and the police are keenly aware of the need to remain vigilant to ensure the violence does not continue or escalate."
Moore said crime statistics tell two stories over recent years -- the number of gang-related crime is down but the number of "aggravated" crimes, from fights to murder, is trending upward.
Such gang violence was already on the rise when a 14-year-old San Jose middle school student died from injures he suffered during a fight that broke out at Roosevelt park April 27. The boy, an eighth-grade student at Bernal Intermediate School in South San Jose, died three days after the altercation that San Jose police say was gang-motivated.
The city's 13th homicide of 2012, and the fifth that was gang-related, comes during a violent stretch in San Jose that includes three homicides, seven stabbings and one nonfatal shooting from Friday night through Monday. In one of the homicides, a shooting, an 18-year-old died Saturday night in the back of Lowell Elementary School, which produced a robo-call to parents.
The number of gang incidents in San Jose have steadily been increasing since December, according to police statistics. Through March 16, nine victims in gang-related incidents were from the ages of 10 to 14.
"You should leave"
In an effort to minimize violence, some of the city's intervention workers will be taking targeted groups on out-of-town trips during the Cinco de Mayo weekend, where counseling can minimize retaliatory attacks and potentially allow cooler heads to prevail.
Still, compared with last year, the homicide levels are low. The city experienced 27 homicides in the first six months in 2011, including 14 gang-related homicides.
The budget for the Mayor's Gang Task Force for 2011-12 was reduced from about $4.7 million to $2.5 million.
During the past few years, San Jose has seen a small number of young teenagers killed by gang violence.
On Jan. 1, 2011, 15-year-old Oscar Gonzalez was found shot to death on the front porch of his home on Auzerais Avenue in a homicide police say was gang-related.
On Sept. 29, 2007, a 15-year-old Willow Glen High sophomore was stabbed to death by three reputed gang members who questioned the teen's gang affiliation. The boy, Adrian Figueroa, was chased in a park near Almaden Expressway and Via Monte Drive by the men, who punched and kicked him.
"Losing anyone to gang violence is a great tragedy," said Liccardo, "but losing someone so young magnifies the concern that the entire community has."
Sonny Lara, a pastor and noted gang-prevention and intervention worker in San Jose, wants youth to be mindful of their surroundings this weekend during Cinco de Mayo.
"If it doesn't feel good, you should leave," Lara said. "Listen to yourself. If it feels unsafe, it is unsafe. Hear yourself and leave."