Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/16/2011 08:54:22 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – The city is one of the most poverty-stricken in the United States, but Henry Carrillo has a dream to move here.

“It would be like hitting the lottery,” Carrillo said Friday.

The 64-year-old retired housekeeper from Muscoy must soon move out of the ramshackle room he rents for $100 a month, because the house has gone into foreclosure.

If he moves to San Bernardino, he will join the estimated 34.6 percent of the city’s residents who live below the poverty level, ranking it first in the state among those with a population of 200,000 or more and second nationally behind Detroit, according to findings by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget set the poverty line in 2010 as $22,314 for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual.

Carrillo lives off the $515 a month he receives in Social Security. He’s on a waiting list to live in one of the new low-income senior-housing facilities in San Bernardino.

He said it could cost around $300 a month to rent, but as one who has lived on the streets and in a field, he will figure out a way to survive on the money left over.

“I have it better than some other people,” Carrillo said. “I’ll find a way to eat.”

And that’s the plight of many residents who struggle to make ends meet in a city that slid into deep levels of poverty over the course of more than two decades.

Kent Paxton, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, said the poverty level started to pick up when big-time companies packed their bags.

“A lot of major employers who employ what would be blue-collar employees left the area,” Paxton said.

He cited the closure of Norton Air Force Base here in 1994 and the 1984 closure of Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana as examples of when decent-paying jobs disappear, leaving the area poorer for it.

At the same time, many of the jobs remaining in the city don’t require much education, which has helped create a work force that doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to advance, Mayor Pat Morris said.

“The employee base has always been blue collar with no opportunities that require higher education,” he said.

He didn’t dispute the Census Bureau’s poverty statistics.

“You can take it at face value because quite clearly we are (in) the poverty zone of Southern California,” Morris said.

But officials say there are other contributing factors to the high level of poverty, besides lost jobs and the poorly educated work force.

Among them is the housing stock. It’s old, cheap and available, drawing folks who already are struggling to stay afloat.

In many ways, they are like Carrillo, looking for a place to call home, at least home for now.

“Families, as they come to us, are living on the margin,” Morris said.

He and Paxton both agreed that partnering with businesses and schools to better educate the work force is the key to lowering the poverty rate.

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