USC Price School of Public Policy

Innovating to End Urban Poverty Conference:

National experts debate provocative solutions for ending urban poverty

“The Heights,” a documentary photo exhibition by Matt Gainer, provides a glimpse of what everyday life is like for residents of the ethnically diverse City Heights area in San Diego, Calif.

USC Price Centers Convene Conference of Country’s Leading Thinkers; Never-Before-Seen Photo Exhibition of Poverty in Southern CA Unveiled

On the heels of U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan’s announcement March 5 on proposed plans to cut poverty programs, the USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, in partnership with the USC Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise, have brought together top urban policy scholars from around the country to discuss and debate the most promising ways to combat poverty. Organizers of the two-day Innovating to End Urban Poverty Conference also unveiled a never-before-seen photo exhibition, “The Heights,” depicting the faces of poverty in Southern California.

The conference will be shown in its entirety via live stream live at

“For too many, the American Dream has hit a wall. One in five of our children live in poverty. Growing numbers of workers find that there is too much month at the end of their money,” said Richard Parks, director of the USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation. “Urban poverty affects us all. It is a call to action.”

“At this critical juncture in our history, it’s time to really reassess and examine which poverty programs work and don’t work,” said Dr. Raphael Bostic, director of the USC Bedrosian Center and former assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “This conference is about helping inform the national debate on poverty, and providing insights regarding the most proven methods for eradicating poverty in communities across America.”

Scholars and experts from around the country will be discussing policies and programs covering five general topic areas:

  • Training and education programs to boost long-term income prospects;
  • Improving provision of basic necessities such as housing, food and healthcare to the most in need;
  • How the stress of living in poverty can affect households and family decision-making, and the role a family’s extended community plays, especially for immigrants;
  • The need to target other impoverished population groups who fall outside the “safety net”;
  • Strategies for getting past barriers of “place” and “race” so that the impoverished can attain self sufficiency.

Conference presenters include experts from many top universities, as well as leaders from well-known think tanks and policy organizations, such as RAND, the Urban Institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Brookings Institution, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation, among many others.

Also featured and commissioned exclusively for the conference is “The Heights,” a documentary photo exhibition by photographer Matt Gainer. The exhibition provides a glimpse of what everyday life is like for residents of the ethnically diverse City Heights area in San Diego, Calif. Though living in an urban neighborhood undergoing revitalization, many City Heights residents still struggle below the poverty line. Over the last two and a half years, USC has conducted several studies in City Heights to identify policies and programs that enhance opportunity and quality of life for residents.

Though it required significantly more set-up time for each individual shoot, Gainer primarily used a large format wooden field camera to take his photos. The approach was intentional, allowing Gainer to have more meaningful interactions with the people photographed. Most of the resulting photos in the exhibition are informed by a short oral history of each participant’s life journey and hopes for the future. The photos are being unveiled for the first time at the conference.

“My project strives to subtly depict the range of people who live in City Heights, the community they nurture and the humanity they share,” said Gainer. “My hope is that these photographs will deepen the impact and broaden the conversations about work being done to improve lives not just in City Heights, but in struggling communities around the country.”

The two-day conference is being held at the USC Doheny Memorial Library in Los Angeles. Conference proceedings can be viewed live at; the full list of conference speakers, conference papers and photos from “The Heights” photo exhibition are also on the website. Comments and conversation about the event can be followed live at @USCPriceCSI or #EndUrbanPoverty.


Nerissa Silao, DDK Communications

Mike Gaetani, USC Sol Price School of Public Policy