Poverty stalks a Fresno, Calif. neighborhood

Maria Cuevas and her 1 1/2-year-old son, Ethan, are regulars at her parents' home just north of downtown Fresno.

The small but tidy bungalow near Belmont Avenue is where she lived until a year ago, and now it's where she can catch up with four generations of family -- for conversation or dinner, recently a shrimp stew made with a spicy tomato broth. Ethan watches cartoons.

How much longer these visits will continue, however, remains to be seen. The bank foreclosed on the home in April after her dad lost his construction job and couldn't make the mortgage. The family expects an eviction notice any day.

"We've been here a long time," said Cuevas, 23. "It's going to be difficult."

Such hardship is not uncommon in these tough economic times. But few places have it harder than Cuevas' old neighborhood, which U.S. Census Bureau data shows has more poverty than any other place in Fresno -- a city with many areas competing for that claim.

The area, which encompasses what's often called the Lowell neighborhood and loosely runs between Belmont Avenue and Divisadero Street, doesn't look much different than other areas near downtown.

The homes are old -- a mix of single-family houses and apartments, most with their best years behind them. Nearby businesses, which often lack customers, are largely mom-and-pop shops offering a hodgepodge of items from hubcaps to discount cigarettes to Mexican food. And a street element is common: the homeless, prostitutes and gangs.

What distinguishes the neighborhood is the high poverty rate, which stood at 53.8% at the end of the past decade. That figure helped secure Fresno's ranking as fifth in the nation for concentrated poverty, according to a Brookings Institution report released last week.

The poverty line, which varies by household, was $22,113 for a family of four in 2010.

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