Accessibility of Family Services in the Flats of Holyoke, MA

María J. Rendón
GEO150, spring 2007

Holyoke is notoriously known to be the poorest city in the state of Massachusetts. Its high poverty levels are intrinsically tied to a variety of problems among the youth, such as high drop-out rates, crime and substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, etc. In light of these conditions, several state-funded agencies and grassroots organizations (e.g., Girls Inc., Nuestras Raices, Enlace de Familias, etc.) have flourished in the most impoverished areas of the city to provide the urban population with family services such as childcare, career development and enrichment programs for the youth. These programs directly tackle the issue of poverty head on and provide young people with the necessary skills to enter the workforce.

Transportation and Underutilization of Services. Even though hundreds of children, teens and young adults have benefited from the services provided by these organizations, many of these agencies recognize that their services have been underutilized throughout the years. Many people agree that lack of time and transportation is the main obstacle that prevents community members from using such services.

Even though there is a large number of resources within proximity of downtown Holyoke (also known as “the Flats”), the poorest residents of this area might not have access to a car, and thus may only be able to reach the family service agencies by foot or by bus. This situation accounts for the lack of commitment by the public in enrolling their kids at after-school programs. It also explains why others do not take advantage of enrichment opportunities such as ESOL classes and job-training programs. Working single mothers for example, might not have the time to drop their kids off nor pick them up from the programs if they have to work long hours in order to sustain their families. On a similar note, taking English classes in the evening might prove to be a hassle for many, if undertaking this enterprise entails walking under adverse weather conditions.

Clearly, transportation is a major deciding factor that determines whether or not people will take advantage of the various enrichment programs offered in Holyoke. An examination of the relative distances of these agencies to the poorest neighborhoods in Holyoke will be useful in determining what part of the community has limited access to these services.

This report explores the accessibility of free or low-cost family-oriented services in the Flats of Holyoke, MA to its poorest residents.