Amidst the Affluent: Pockets of Poverty
Glenview's low income residents blend in; stand out
Nancy Bloom believes Glenview's upper crust zip code makes it harder than it should be to get grants that would help poor local families.
More than 65 percent of the children and parents who get counseling, recreation or other therapies from Youth Services are low income, she said, but granting agencies still seem skeptical.
“They are like ‘Glenview? Northbrook? Those are rich suburbs,’” said Bloom, Youth Service's executive director.
This disconnect she describes: between Glenview’s reputation for affluence and its persistent pockets of poverty, presents unique challenges both for the area’s poor--whose lives are defined by contrast--and the schools and agencies that serve them.
How many poor people live in Glenview?
Quantifying the area’s poor is challenging, but a common shortcut used by researchers is the percentage of public school children receiving free and reduced lunch.
In 2010, 17.4 percent of Dist. 34’s children were low income and 11 percent at Dist. 225, which also includes Northbrook. It’s a substantial percentage, but Glenview’s poor students are much more outnumbered than they would be at the average Illinois public school, where 45.4 percent meet federal poverty guidelines.
They are “have nots” in a world where their peers, tapping on iPhones pulled from designer purses, seem to want for nothing.
Dina Shiner sees it in the middle schoolers she counsels as a 7th grade social worker at Springman Middle School, where nearly twenty percent are low income.
Middle school is awkward and challenging enough without throwing income disparity into the mix, she said.
“At this age, the kids are very much trying to figure out who they are and comparing themselves to those around them," Shiner said. “Living in such a materialistic society, that is very challenging and hard for kids to understand.”
With the parent-created Debra Gelbrand Fund, Dist. 34 is able to smooth out some of the disconnect, buying some new clothes and shoes and providing needy students who make the team with sports and cheerleading uniforms that can cost in excess of $100.
A retired doctor volunteers his time to provide sports physicals, and when the 8th grade class took a field trip to Great America this spring, generous donations from parents made sure no one was left out.
Narrowing the gap
That’s the flip side of being poor among the wealthy.
“I am thrilled to work in Glenview because I think it is a very supportive community,” Shiner said. “People really rise to the challenge.”
But for many students, there is not just a gap, but a gaping chasm between their lives of after-school jobs and wondering if there will be enough food to eat and those of their well-off peers, whose exotic spring break locales can make it seem they want for nothing.
“If you’re poor in a poor neighborhood, everybody is the same,” Bloom said. “Here, a lot of the kids are different, and that’s hard; it’s hard not to have what everybody else has.”
She sees that in the holiday gift program run by Youth Services, which has seen more than 150 families asking for assistance since the recession hit.
In the holiday wish lists that children write, it’s not uncommon for them to ask for an iPad, an Xbox or some specific brand of clothing, Bloom said, which sometimes brings an irate phone call from the family that has agreed to help them buy gifts.
“They get upset with us sometimes,” she said. “They say ‘These children are poor, they are supposed to want pajamas.’”
Parents in poverty will struggle to pay the higher rents to live in Glenview, Bloom said, in order to send their children to better schools.
“I have found these families to be grateful, gracious, hardworking and a great addition to our community,” she said.
The Illinois Housing Development Authority determined that 12.4 percent of Glenview’s housing stock is low income, which is above a 10 percent threshold the state established in 2005 for requiring communities to develop affordable housing plans.
Winnetka and several other north Chicago suburbs are in the throes of developing plans like that right now.
Based largely on the 2000 Census, the figure for Glenview may overstate the amount of housing for low income families, because it doesn’t factor in the demolition of low-income military housing associated with the formal naval base. Though a smaller amount of low-income senior housing has been added, rampant growth in upper-end housing between 2000 and the housing collapse could push the balance towards what most people think of when they think of Glenview.
Nearly 15 percent of the city’s 10 square miles are covered by the Glen, a mixed housing, shopping and office district so remarkable that visitors will get a drive-by even if they aren’t hitting the boutiques or eating in one of several unique restaurants.
They might be surprised to see the other Glenview, driving through the crumbling Sunset Village mobile home park or an area known as “the triangle,” west and south of Milwaukee Avenue and Deerlove Road.
Many work one or more jobs in Glenview’s service industry, staffing restaurants, cleaning homes or landscaping its lush lawns. Due to the recession, many of them have had their hours cut, said Bloom, and are no longer getting health benefits or enough income to make the rent.
More people in need
At the Northfield Food Pantry, they join an increasing number of more affluent families who never thought they would need assistance but have fallen on hard times because of the recession.
There has been a 140 percent spike in families using the pantry since 2005, according to director Gayle Zalatorias. In 2005, 278 families, most of them structurally poor, were using the pantry.
This year, 670 families are signed up so far to receive groceries and Jewel grocery cards, she said, some who knew it was there because they had donated in the past.
Mary Lou Kratochwill, the pantry coordinator, said others are shocked that upscale Glenview even offers the service.
“I get a lot of volunteers – this happens at least once a week – who say ‘I had no idea there was such a need in an affluent community.'”