Overcrowded trailers, no laundry: Addressing everyday hardships in Silicon Valley’s agricultural communities

Visit

IErica Woodn late September I visited a couple of farms on the San Mateo County Coastside in Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. Along with a group (pictured above) of board members and other partners who work with SVCF, I was able to see first-hand the housing that our farmworker neighbors live in, and hear from them about the challenges they face as low-income people living in one of the nation’s most affluent counties. 

Did you know that there is no laundromat in Pescadero? Most people must drive to Half Moon Bay to wash their clothes, and it’s 18 miles away. We also heard from one woman who drives her teen daughter to and from school, every week day, so that her daughter can go to a high school in Santa Cruz that offers Advanced Placement (AP) classes. The high school in Pescadero, where she lives, does not offer AP classes for students who are aiming to attend college. 

Finally, we spoke with several men and women who are participants in programs provided by Puente de la Costa Sur (PUENTE), a community resource center based in Pescadero. We heard from people who have not seen their Mexican relatives for nearly 20 years because they fear endangering their immigration status if they leave the United States. And we saw the housing where many farm workers live with their families or other workers – sometimes eight or nine people living in one trailer and paying more than half of their meager income in monthly rent between them.  

Even though I’ve learned a lot about these communities over the years – and I know that SVCF’s grantmaking strategies are funding legal services for immigrants, financial education and asset-building programs for low-income residents, and much more – I could not help but be moved. Silicon Valley is a tale of two valleys, still. In one Silicon Valley, technology is changing how we live, work and play, while also creating great wealth. In the other, less frequently discussed Silicon Valley, some agriculture and service workers are living in over-crowded trailers, or in their cars, and they lack some of the basic services most of us take for granted. 

We cannot take our eyes off this reality. The County of San Mateo is committed to doing a housing needs assessment for these communities.  And with the partnership of nonprofit organizations and generous donors, we will look for ways to create laundry facilities in Pescadero, and for ways to enable farm workers to speak with their families in other countries via Skype. These necessities matter to one’s quality of life.  And we will keep working to make life better for those who are struggling in Silicon Valley.

If you’re interested in helping address issues in low-income Coastside communities, please email me at ekwood@siliconvalleycf.org.