By Sasha VanAllen
If you head east from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, down East Washington Avenue, you’ll start to notice the thriving businesses and upscale downtown restaurants start to fade. These fade into vacant lots and old residential rental properties that have been ran down throughout the course of time. The smooth asphalt transitions to into cracked concrete and potholes barely filled with rubble. The once prosperous building complex now only holds a Subway restaurant, an old gym and a small beauty supply store, all with bars over the storefront windows.
The city’s light seems to dim after a certain point after the train tracks, proving that it is indeed different on the other side. Madison is known for having an array of racial identities between the widespread neighborhoods. However, it is apparent where the thin line is drawn. There is a difference in socioeconomic status, not only from the demographics but also from the resources that are accessible to those who inhabit those communities, which is especially evident on the eastside of Madison.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “individuals and households in lower-income or rural areas often have fewer information and resources themselves and in their neighborhoods.” Residents in these lower-income neighborhoods often have a hard time receiving the help they need, because of the lack of resources within the community they live in.
Resources can be defined as economic or productive factors required to accomplish an activity or to undertake an enterprise and achieve a desired outcome, according to the business dictionary. Resources within the neighborhood can be seen as community centers, parks, public assistance facilities, transportation, health care centers/clinics, and grocery stores. However, neighborhoods across the country look very different and are not always allotted the same opportunities.
Being a student on the UW-Madison campus grants access to useful resources like free bus transportation, reduced prices on bus tickets to major cities surrounding Wisconsin, access to food pantries and healthier food options (through the UW-Madison agricultural department) and more. However, people in low economic neighborhoods, like Darbo, are not granted those same resources.
One of the missing resources that hinders those who stay in low-economic neighborhoods is transportation. The 2017 census for the City of Madison reports that the mean time to travel to work is 20 minutes. However, an eastside resident would say otherwise.
“Public transportation does not run as frequently as it does closer to the downtown area. Which places time constraints on travelers to get to places that they need to be. From the university to East Towne Mall, it takes about 60 minutes on the bus, when on average, in a vehicle, it would take only about 30 minutes or less,” said Mariama Bester.
Mariama Bester is a recent graduate from UW-Madison with a degree in Neurobiology and Sociology. Bester was born and raised on the east side of Madison and knows first-hand the lack of resources her neighborhood has had. Although there have been slight gains of opportunities and resources, her community is still struggling to this day.
“Attending UW-Madison and seeing the variety of assistance that is offered through the university like health care, the food pantry on campus, academic resources, and more, was way more than what I was used to seeing coming from the east side of Madison,” Bester said.
The City of Madison records reported that in 2014, almost 33 percent of people living on the east side of Madison were living below the poverty line. Now in 2017, that number has not decreased in the way that the city of Madison would like. However, if residents do not have access to resources like transportation, food assistance and job placement how can residents better support themselves? An even bigger question to ask is, what is the city of Madison actively doing to resolve this issue?
United Way is an organization that “improves lives” by activating members of the communities, and outside volunteers, to strive to bring dynamic change into the communities that are impacted by various issues like public housing, food insecurity, joblessness, financial issues, health complications and more.
There is a national program that is funded through United Way that is accessible to residents of Dane County. “2-1-1 of Dane County” is a hotline that provides resources to callers in need. John Connell, of Madison’s east side, strives to dismember disparities in the communities in Madison and is currently the assistant director of the program.
“2-1-1 is a 24-hour confidential hotline that provides resource services to callers in need of emergency assistance, that provides information for childcare, drug assistance, after-school programming as well as housing assistance; the United way also serves as a food pantry,” said Connell.
In Connell’s position as assistant director, he not only is a liaison to programming and administrative duties but he also actively communicates and advocates for those who use the hotline service. Connell said that his team works tirelessly to make sure that callers receive the help that they need, whether that be assistance with rent, or finding job placement in the workforce.
According to United Way worldwide, the “2-1-1” hotline answered more than 13 million calls and approximately 1 million texts nationally in 2017. And “2-1-1” is accessible to almost 95 percent of the population in the United States.
While the Dane County sector is fairly young with it being founded in 2002, it’s only 16 years old, and by 2022 their goal is to “stabilize families in Dane County by effectively mobilizing the caring power of the community because change doesn’t happen alone. Hope isn’t a one-man band. And there is no such thing as self-taught or self-made (Annual Report 2017).”
Because of organizations like United Way that are strategically planning initiatives to engage the community and make an impact, residents and members of Eastside communities, like Mariama Bester, now have access to resources and organizations that are available to provide to their neighborhood.
Mariama Bester was born December 18, 1994 in Madison, Wisconsin. Bester has five siblings and a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Bester always knew at a young age that she wanted to become a doctor so that she’d be able to give back to her community and and have a positive impact within her community. She was determined not to let where she came from define her life. Her motivation and drive to excel early in her academic career, lead her to attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She graduated from the university this past spring with a degree in Neurobiology and Sociology. Right now, she is a dedicated employee, in which she works for Exact Science Laboratories on the east side of Madison as a production associate. As she sees education as a necessary contributor to fulfilling her dreams, Bester plans on applying to medical school. In the future, she hopes to continue her passion towards becoming a doctor. `
Mariama Bester, Eastside resident, 608-628-9260
Jon McConnell, Assistant Director of 2-1-1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Neighborhood disparities in access to information resources: Measuring and mapping U.S. public libraries’ funding and service landscapes
Intersection of Living in a Rural Versus Urban Area and Race/Ethnicity in Explaining Access to Healthcare in the United States
2017 United Way Annual Report
City of Madison Neighborhood Annual Report