In America, the pandemic shined a light on homelessness, our healthcare infrastructure's shortcomings as well as food insecurities. The rise of childhood poverty and hunger became more glaring, and this week's guest, teacher, advocate, and attorney, Nick Melvoin, explains how this happens, and he offers some practical solutions. Melvoin is an LA Unified School Board member of District 4 and helped start the nation's largest food bank. He joins Xander to discuss ways to end hunger and poverty for children and their families.
Nick explains that his district was already unique. They offered three meals a day to students before the COVID-19 closures, which is especially needed with 82 percent of families in Los Angeles living in poverty and having "over 18 thousand homeless children". "California has the highest affected childhood poverty rate in the nation," Melvoin says, "It's shameful, especially as a progressive state."
As the crisis went from temporary school closures to being extended for months, the pandemic was also spotlighting the importance of schools to communities. Melvoin began collaborating with legal aid organizations to help parents who were losing jobs, being victims of wage theft, and immigration battles. "We put lawyers in communities of schools to help families solve their problems, so it really is, kind of, us (LAUSD) as the convener and kind of the ambassador for a lot of these other services."
He hopes this increased aid will evolve towards children's mental healthcare since children often go to schools for help first and not the county which currently receives the bulk of those funds. Melvoin says he's "trying to convince the city of Los Angeles, the county, and the school district to be more consistent focused and child-focused as opposed to agency focused.” He remained fully kid-focused since the initial mandatory closings in March 2020, when his district opened 60 schools to serve meals to entire families which led to partnerships such as with the LA Food Bank.
With his efforts to end food insecurity comes the question: what will happen when schools reopen, and life goes back to normal? "This is, of course, a new crisis," Melvoin says, "but it's one that's just exacerbated the existing crisis." What of those people still homeless and hungry?
These school districts never received funding or aid for their community services despite being set up to efficiently and affordably offer food, COVID-19 services, and accepting and distributing donations. Melovoin continues to get pushback from the city when he proposes plans to continue the work. "Their response quite candidly has been, 'Well, no one asked you to do that."
However, Melvoin continues to advocate for children. He removed all school lunch debt and paid for internet hotspots for at-home learning. "In the short term, we're part of the solution here, but in the long term, we need a city, a county, or a state-wide solution."
Nick suggests that people get involved in local politics from criminal justice, schools, and zoning. He explains, "These are the people making decisions that affect your quality of life." He encourages people to find out who their local council, school board members, and state legislators are.
"It should give us all significant shame that in the richest state, in the richest country, in the history of the world, we have the highest affected childhood poverty rate. The lowest per capita housing rate, some of the worst-funded and worst-performing public schools.", Melvoin says, "It's about access, and it's about equity."