Oakland Fights Poverty with Network PCs

Janet Patterson, a 30year resident of the Acorn housing development in western Oakland, Calif., has spent a lot of time rallying against drugs and crime in her impoverished waterfront community. As president of the Acorn Residents Council, she admits the complex has been criticized over the years

Janet Patterson, a 30-year resident of the Acorn housing development in western Oakland, Calif., has spent a lot of time rallying against drugs and crime in her impoverished waterfront community. As president of the Acorn Residents Council, she admits the complex has been criticized over the years for problems ranging from poor sanitation to prostitution, but she said, "My thing is, if you're going to criticize, you need to do something to bring about change."

Now Patterson believes the tide may be turning, thanks in part to a partnership formed to fight poverty with high technology. In a $1.4 million arrangement, the city of Oakland is working with IBM Corp. and Acorn owner Bridge West Oakland Housing to supply each of Acorn's 206 residents with state-of-the-art PCs, software and training that will allow residents to learn computer applications and to access the Internet.

The partners hope the venture will translate into higher-paying jobs for residents, a better education for their children and a ticket out of economic stagnation. "If we provide people [with] the skills to keep abreast of technology, we provide them [with] something that becomes more important than the welfare they may have lost," said Shad Small, deputy chief of the Projects Division in Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency. "It provides them not only [with] the hope but the likelihood that they can get a job and retain that job and care for their families' needs not only for the moment but for the future."

Small said the city undertook the venture in an effort to address new welfare reform laws mandating that able-bodied recipients find jobs. In Oakland, more than 15,000 families will be affected by the laws, including many Acorn residents, whose average annual income is about $7,500. "We look at revitalizing and rehabilitating buildings," Small said. "But we also need to be prepared to revitalize and reinvigorate people who reside in or work in those buildings."

Economic Sparks

Dave Berman, an IBM spokesman, said the company is optimistic that the proj-ect will help to spark the economy. "Things have been done that are similar," he said. "But I think this is unique in the sense that it's an end-to-end solution, starting with assessing the needs of the residents, installing a network computing environment and getting the community involved, all the way up to the final phase of identifying the job skills that are required by local companies and training and certifying people for those jobs."

In the first phase of the project, IBM plans to install IBM Network Stations-Network PCs built for network-based client/server applications-in each of Acorn's units that are being renovated. IBM said the stripped-down PCs are better-suited to the project than standard desktop PCs for a number of reasons: They are less expensive than standard PCs, programs can be easily updated from a central location rather than from each apartment, and maintenance is minimal because of the Network PCs' operational simplicity.

The Network Stations will be managed by two IBM Netfinity Servers and linked via a local-area network to a computer training facility at the housing complex, which will be completed by March 1999. Until the permanent facility is completed, IBM said it will set up a temporary center and provide training for adults in such basic computer skills as word processing and Internet access. On-site training could be vital to the program's success.

"Picture a welfare mom with several small children," Berman said. "She wouldn't have to go any place to get the training. It all takes place in the building, either in the learning center-which is a classroom environment-or out of her own apartment doing computer-based training or homework. This eliminates the need for transportation or child care, so I think it is very appealing to the residents of Acorn."

The training will be designed to attract residents who might be intimidated by computers, such as Patterson herself. "I'm not up to par with the computer," she said. "I know how to turn it on. I know how to tap in to certain programs. [But] by the Year 2000 we will all need to know about computers, and that goes for our babies at home all the way to our seniors. They need to be able to tap into other parts of the city and other parts of the world."

Customized Training

During the second phase of the project, IBM plans to survey area companies to find out which applications they are using so that Acorn can customize its training. "We will train people in those skills, and in exchange the companies will go ahead and hire those people once they've completed the training," Berman said. "What that means is that the companies have a new employee who's basically prepared to begin being productive on Day One."

Added Small: "Who better to serve those positions but people like those who come to reside at the Acorn proj-ect? We would like to think that with the training provided, residents will be able to unleash their talents and apply themselves in such ways that businesses will be clamoring to hire them."

The third phase of the project will be tailored to the educational needs of the community. Officials plan to work with the Oakland Unified School District to improve communication channels between parents, teachers and administrators. Among the ideas: creating an online help desk for homework or for locating documents not available at the local library.

As the mother of a 16-year-old, Patterson is encouraged. "I want to make sure that before my son leaves high school he has had some kind of computer training," she said.

The partners expect social dividends: "Young people who are spending time in front of a computer would be less likely to spend time on a street corner," Small said. "As they get involved in using computers, they will be less likely to use drugs, we hope. It is not a certainty. We don't have empirical data, but it is an expectation."

-- Joyce Kelly is a free-lance writer based in Chicago.

*****

Blueprint for a Community Partnership

The Acorn project came together through a convergence of factors, including leadership from community, political and industry players, the need to react locally to a major shift in federal welfare policy and the availability of the right technical tools.

But it was sparked by the residents themselves. The Acorn Residents Council had been active in seeking funds to get the physical infrastructure of the complex renovated. With the residents' push, the city of Oakland was able to obtain a subsidy from the development's former owner, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to renovate the complex.

Tenants then proposed including high technology as part of the rehabilitation. With the walls already torn apart in some of the complex, workers could more easily run the fiber-optic cable for the Network Stations. "The idea originally came from the tenants, who saw this as an opportunity to improve job readiness, to place themselves literally on the cutting edge of technology," said Shad Small of Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency.

"This is something we've talked about for the last four-and-a-half years in residence council," added Janet Patterson, president of the Acorn Residents Council. "What we always envisioned was that we had the infrastructure in place to support residents' personal computers. We didn't know that every household would be equipped with a computer. This is much more than we had hoped for."

It did not hurt that at the same time, the Oakland City Council had expressed an interest in projects to help move citizens from welfare to work. Nor did it hurt that Bridge West Oakland Housing was considered "very capable" and "well-respected" by public housing officials in the city and elsewhere throughout the country. That, in turn, helped draw the commercial players.

IBM Corp. spokesman Dave Berman said his company considers the Acorn project a commercial venture. IBM did, however, offer the project a discount of about $240,000 on its products and services. Pacific Bell Network Integration, IBM's subcontractor for installing the fiber-optic cable, also contributed $100,000 in discounts for its services.

While the first phase of the $1.4 million plan is being paid for by the city of Oakland, city officials are hopeful they will be able to get funding for subsequent phases from commercial sources as well as from the federal government. "The city has had to tighten its belt in order to do this, and it has to get funds from the outside," Small said. "But the hope is that as this comes to fruition, others might see what good we trust it will do, and they too will want to participate and will see the benefit in participating-if not here in Oakland, [then] elsewhere."

"We have already gotten inquiries from other communities about doing something similar," Berman said. "If this could work at Acorn, then it could as a model be likely replicated almost anywhere else."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.