'Untold Human Need' Found in Asian Community

Times Staff Writer

Calling the county's burgeoning Asian-Pacific population "a community about to explode," a United Way task force Wednesday warned that a significant increase in social and health services is urgently needed for the various ethnic groups.

A yearlong study of the 10 largest Asian communities found "evidence of terrible and untold human need," said Frank Watase, head of United Way's Asian-Pacific Research and Development Council.

The elderly, refugees, orphaned children, battered women, single parents and adolescents who turn to drugs and gangs were identified as the most in need of assistance among the 10 largest Asian-Pacific ethnic groups here.

"Asians tend to suffer from the stereotype that they are the model minority--the scholars, good incomes, stable family life," said Gary Wong, task force chairman. "This study has identified the other side to that."

More than 1 million Asians and Pacific Islanders live in Los Angeles County, up from 250,000 in 1970, and 450,00 in 1980, according to county and task force estimates. It is expected that the population will soar to 2 million by the year 2000. Because of this rapid population increase, social services have lagged far behind the need, the study concluded.

The 160-page report focuses on groups that make up 90% of the Asian-Pacific population here: Cambodians, 50,000; Chinese, 170,000; Japanese, 188,000; Koreans, 150,000; Laotians, 30,000; Filipinos, 350,000; Samoans, 60,000; Thais, 110,000; Tongans, 20,000; and Vietnamese, 42,000.

Used for Planning

The report will be distributed to human service organizations, foundations, corporations and government agencies. Wong said United Way expects the report to be used for planning how best to get the right services to the people who need them. However, the study made no attempt to calculate the cost of providing the assistance.

United Way will distribute $60 million to nearly 336 agencies this year. And while many of those agencies help the communities studied by the task force, only seven of the charities are specifically devoted to Asian-Pacific groups. Those seven receive a total of $230,000 from United Way.

"We aren't happy with that figure," said Cella Morey, United Way spokeswoman. "We hope the report will give us a direction in which to work." Only the Chinatown Service Center received funding before 1980. Since that time six Asian-Pacific agencies have been added.

No new United Way agencies of any kind have been added since 1985, due to budget problems that developed because campaign goals were not met, officials noted.

"I think management of United Way is committed to increasing allocations," Wong said, "Unfortunately, right now, under the United Way budgeting process, they are committed to a lot of services that existed before the Asian-Pacific population boom. Unless they can get more contributions, they can't increase Asian services. They have to figure now to expand both sides and that includes getting more Asians involved in fund raising . . . and in giving. "

The report was based on dozens of meetings with hundreds of civic leaders, agency workers and residents of Asian-Pacific communities.

The report suggested a need for more outreach and referral programs in Asian communities, noting that in many cases Asians do not use available services because they do not know they exist, or because of language and cultural barriers.

For example, mental health services are especially needed among Asians, many who come from war-torn countries such as Cambodia where almost a third of the population perished. The stress of living in a new country compounds mental health problems. But since mental illness is often perceived as a shameful condition reflecting badly on the family, most do not seek such services.

The council suggests that the best way to get such services to Asians is by making it available at agencies where other needs are met, such as medical and job training, so that the stigma is lessened. Such multi-service health centers could be set where there are significant concentrations of Asian-Pacifics, such as Torrance, Long Beach, Carson, Hawthorne and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

The study noted that while Asian-Pacifics' incomes and education levels are slightly higher than for the county as a whole, language and cultural barriers have limited many immigrant groups in obtaining education. Filipinos, Koreans, Chinese and Japanese have rates of college graduates above the county average, but the more recent immigrant groups have extremely low educational attainment levels and lower incomes.

The elderly were found to be the neediest and most under-served of all age and demographic groups in the Asian communities, a fact that flies in the face of the stereotype that depicts Asians as always taking care of their elders, Wong said.

THE BOOMING ASIAN POPULATION

The Asian Pacific community in Los Angeles County is growing dramatically and is projected to hit 2 million by the year 2000.

In millions

1970: 250,000

1980: 450,000

1988: 1,000,000

2000: 2,000,000

1970 '80 '88 2000

Source: United Way

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