Equity: Community Cohesion and Safety

Why is this Important?

Community cohesion, the “glue” holding together the members of a community, provides people with a sense of belonging and empowerment. Within a cohesive community, members are actively engaged in the well-being of the group, and they look out for and support one another. This sense of belonging not only strengthens communities, but it also offers health and emotional benefits to its members. Studies have found that social isolation is associated with increased morbidity and early mortality, and its health risks are on par with the risk from cigarette smoking.

While it is important for adults to feel a sense of belonging, it is crucial for children, who depend upon adults to provide them with a safe environment in which to grow and learn. Childhood trauma, including physical and sexual injury, neglect, or lack or supervision, can result in lifelong social impairment and affect academic performance. Since 1970, the percent of family households in the U.S. headed by single parents has tripled. Single-parent families are more likely to live in poverty and under stressful conditions; both put children at increased risk for poor academic achievement and behavioral and health-related problems.

When people feel safe, they are more likely to be active and engaged in their communities. High rates of crime can weaken the morale, resiliency, and civic engagement of residents and can lead to blight and disorder, thus attracting more crime and deterring economic development.

What is a Sustainable State?

In a sustainable state, adults and children feel social-emotional connections to their communities. Adults are active and engaged in the civic process, and voter participation rates are high. The poverty rate is low, and support services help those most in need. Crime rates are low, businesses and commerce thrive, and communities have safe neighborhoods, recreation areas, and schools. Instances of child abuse are rare, and all children grow up in nurturing and caring environments.

Key Findings

  • While the county’s child abuse referral rate (34 referrals per 1,000 children) is much lower than California’s (53), significant disparities exist by race/ethnicity, with the rate for African American children over three times greater than the county average.
  • Over 20% of the families in the county with children under 18 are headed by a single-parent, which is below the rate for California (31%). Of these single-parent households, 75% are headed by a female.
  • The county’s violent crime rate in 2012 (240 per 100,000 population) was well below California’s (424) and was down 22% from 2001 levels.
  • In 2012, the poverty rate for San Mateo County was 8.4%, an increase from the year prior but still well below state (17.0%) and national (15.9%) rates. The child poverty rate for the county is 11.6% but rises to 22.9% for children in single-mother households.
  • The 2013 San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey counted a total of 2,28 homeless, a 6% increase from 2011. Of these homeless, 57% were unsheltered (living in cars, homeless encampments, or on the streets).

Indicators and Trends
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Healthy Families

  • In 2012, the rate of children referred to Child Protective Services in San Mateo County as victims of child abuse was 33.6 referrals per 1,000 children. After reaching a low in 2010, the referral rate has increased the last two years and is now 25% higher than in 2003.
  • Although the county’s child abuse referral rate is low compared to California, there are disparities by race/ethnicity, with African American children having the highest rates.
  • Nearly one in four families in the county with children under 18 years of age are headed by a single-parent. Of these single-parent households, 75% are headed by a female. Single-parent families are more likely to live in poverty and under stressful conditions.

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  • In 2012, the county’s poverty rate was 8.4%, the highest level of the last 10 years. California’s rate also continued to climb and is now at a high of 17%.
  • Of the counties listed above, Marin and Contra Costa saw their poverty rates decline in 2012 from the year prior, while San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara all had increasing rates. Alameda’s rate remained unchanged from 2011.
  • Just over one in ten children in the county lives in poverty. The poverty rate for children living in a single-parent household with a female householder, though, is nearly double.

Impoverished County

The Federal Poverty Level is calculated annually and adjusted for inflation, but it does not take local cost of living into account. The California Poverty Measure (CPM), developed by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, adjusts for geographic differences in cost of housing and accounts for in-kind benefits (nutritional assistance, subsidized housing, etc.) as well as for expenses (taxes, child care, etc.). It therefore provides a more accurate assessment of poverty in the county.

According to the CPM, the county poverty rate is 18%, meaning that over 136,000 county residents live in poverty. The region’s high housing costs combined with a large number of low-paying jobs are the main reasons for the high poverty rate.

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Crime and Safety

  • In committing a violent crime, the offender uses or threatens to use force upon a victim. Overall, violent crime in the county dropped 22% from 2001-2012.
Perceptions of Safety 5th Grade Students SMC.eps
  • More fifth graders (86%) feel safe at school most or all of the time than outside of school (74%).

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  • The bi-annual San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey gathers data on the county’s homeless population in order to create effective solutions to this long-standing problem.
  • For the 2013 count, the total number of homeless in the county was 2,281, a 6% increase from 2011. Of these homeless, 57% were unsheltered (living in cars, homeless encampments, or on the streets), while 43% were sheltered (living in emergency shelters, in motels with voucher programs, transitional housing, jails or hospitals).
  • Overall, the number of unsheltered homeless was up 12% from 2011 levels, mostly due to a large increase in people living in cars and recreational vehicles. Increasing rents and a lack of affordable housing are the key reasons for the increase in homeless.
  • Homelessness by city just tracks unsheltered numbers to prevent cities with homeless shelters from registering higher counts than neighboring areas.
  • East Palo Alto unsheltered homeless population was down nearly 70% from the 2011 count, while Half Moon Bay’s unsheltered population rose 178%.
  • All other cities not shown here had fewer than 50 homeless, while Atherton and Hillsborough had no homeless people.

Helping Those in Need

In an effort to tackle the growing homeless problem, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted in 2013 to put aside $1.5 Million of Measure A sales tax revenue for two programs. The first would provide $1.2 Million in funding to a homeless shelter in East Palo Alto so it could remain open year-round. An additional $300,000 will go to the Homeless Outreach Team, a countywide program that helps the chronically homeless to get housing and become self-sufficient.

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Civic Engagement: Voter Participation

Voter Turnout.eps

• For the 2012 Presidential Election, 80% of registered San Mateo County voters cast a ballot, the highest percentage turnout since 1992. Vote by mail is increasing in popularity and represented 58% of total ballots cast in the county.

• For voter participation by city, see page 50.

Burlingame Neighborhood Network

Recent studies show that personal connections among neighbors dramatically improve the chances of survival during and after a disaster. Building on this learning, the Burlingame Neighborhood Network (BNN) program encourages residents to get acquainted and prepare for disasters. This connectedness also helps prevent crime since neighbors who know one another also know who doesn’t belong in their neighborhood.

BNN offers resources and speakers to help residents form their own Neighborhood Networks. Once a network is formed, neighbors work together to generate a neighborhood contact directory, assemble emergency kits, create family evacuation plans, learn crime prevention tips, and take free or low-cost emergency training courses. For more information, email:

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Civic Engagement: Library Usage

Public Library Suage Registered Borrowers & Attendance.eps

• The number of registered borrowers and library attendance at county public libraries have both shown positive increases since 2003, up 54% and 42% respectively.

• Although the number of registered borrowers keeps increasing, visits have gone down slightly from 2009–2011.

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From the 2014 Indicators Report

The county’s population is expected to grow by 185,000 before 2040.

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‟The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.”—Theodore Roosevelt