Seek Help Immediately

by Susan Redner

Typically, there are a multitude of issues causing families or individuals to become homeless. For people who are earning minimum wage it’s much easier to fall into homelessness than it is for people who earn more, and much more difficult to get out. According to a report done in June by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an individual needs to make $15.50 an hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Guilford County. Minimum wage is $7.25 an hour which is only $290 a week before taxes. For a person who is homeless and trying to stay in a hotel room, it’s almost impossible to afford on minimum wage. A cheap room in Greensboro is $40 a night or $280 a week.

I met Jim 6 months ago. He had recently started a new job and he was relieved to be working. Jim had gotten out of the hospital a few months earlier and only had enough money saved to stay in a hotel for a few months.

His new employer promised Jim he’d make over 40K a year in commission. Jim’s abilities were limited because of poor health, plus the hiring manager was not being completely honest, resulting in Jim making minimum wage.

Before long Jim had to move to a less expensive hotel with a room and amenities that were not as pleasant. He kept working though, hoping to make more money, but within just a few months, Jim ran out of money and was evicted. He refused to go to a shelter, and instead, Jim moved into his car.

Jim goes back and forth between living in his car and staying a room. During those times when he’s living in his car, he washes up in rest stops and gets his clothes cleaned at the cleaners. After work he drives around town for hours trying to find a safe place to park for the night. He likes to watch old TV shows on YouTube to occupy himself but he has trouble keeping his phone charged. Recently his car  began having a mechanical issue that might require repairs Jim can’t afford.

Jim is convinced he’ll be okay, especially since he can stay at a hotel intermittently. Unfortunately, many times, the situation Jim is in leads to that individual losing everything and ending up on the street.

Cheryl is a good example of what happens to people when they start down the road to homelessness. After years of working, Cheryl lost her job. She left her family and moved to Greensboro hoping to find work.  She had a little money and was able to stay in a hotel room and she had a car so she could get around. Because she parked in the wrong place at the wrong time her car was impounded. At that point she didn’t have enough money to get it out and had to give up on it. Most of Cheryl’s belongings were in the car including her laptop. After she lost her car she stayed in a shelter for a while but when that didn’t work out, she ended up living on the street. Once someone starts trying to survive outside it isn’t long before they are arrested, and that’s exactly what happens to Cheryl. She was arrested for trespassing. Now, with a police record, not place to live, no car and no job, her prospects are grim. It was painful to watch Cheryl fall so hard I hope  the same thing doesn’t happen to Jim.

It’s hard to convince someone who is still working and has reliable transportation that the path they’re on is perilous. Reaching out for help the moment you begin to lose ground is the best chance you have to save yourself. It’s easier to get help when you are still in your home. It’s easier to get help when you still have a job. It’s easier to get help when you still have a car.

If you find yourself moving towards the edge of possible homelessness, seek help immediately. Don’t take a chance on falling so far down you can’t make it back up.

“Evicted” Book Review

by Stephanie Thomas

Evicted, written by Matthew Desmond, will change your perspective on the causes and result of evictions. In his book, Desmond follows 8 families through the process of being evicted. He spends an enormous amount of time with each family, allowing us to get a close look into their personal lives, revealing the effect evictions has on them.

The eight families featured in the book live in Milwaukee, in what most of us would consider extreme poverty. When they and their families are evicted, they lose more than a place to live. Some of lose all of their possessions. One loses his job. Most lose access to decent neighborhoods. With poorer neighborhoods comes poorer schools, and no chance for the children to get a descent education.

In Milwaukee, people are evicted for a multitude of reasons. One family is evicted after they complain about unsanitary living conditions, another because an ambulance is called for a child with asthma, and still another because the landlord had failed to pay the mortgage on the property.

Another tragedy that befalls families who lose their homes is they frequently have to put their belongings in storage. Once this happens, it is not uncommon for the families to be unable to pay the storage fees. At that point, their possessions are auctioned off and they lose everything including household items, furniture, clothes, the children’s belongings, medicine, and even food. To make things worse, once an eviction is on an individuals record it either forces them into less desirable housing, a homeless shelter, or the street.

Every city is different in the way it handles its poor. Some are worse than others. Greensboro has its own issues, but in spite of the difficulties our poor and homeless face, we are kinder and more generous than some of the larger cities.

If you work with individuals and families living in poverty, struggling to keep a roof over their head, this is a must read.

Do Not Judge

By Lori Shepard

Do not judge

Do not assume

To know the life of

That stranger in the room

Or across the street

Holding a sign

Or standing and waiting

There on the line

Their life story

You cannot know

Just by looking

High and low

It’s true that some

Are in despair

But you don’t know

What  put them there

So do not judge

Do not assume

Why not smile

Across the room

Read that sign

Be more aware

At the very least

Offer up a prayer

Find a way

If you can

To make a difference

To your fellow man

Find a cause

To work or finance

Help someone else

To have a chance

Count your blessings

Find something to do

Remember, in an instant

That stranger could be you

“$2.00 a day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” – A book review

elizabeth-for-website

by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater

This book by two distinguished sociologists and public policy professors is immensely depressing. That fact, though, should not discourage an audience from being educated about the struggles of those living in poverty and the governmental policies which have led to this situation. The authors share their research through statistics and narratives about those who live on two dollars a day per person. These heart breaking stories about the struggle of families with finding jobs, housing, food, and transportation should bring shame to all those who believe that poor people are lazy and really don’t want to work but prefer to live on government handouts.
The real problem with this attitude is that there is no longer any monetary handouts available from the government. The authors begin their book with a concise history of welfare and its reform which ended in 1996 under the Clinton administration. While single mothers with children—the main recipients of welfare– did indeed try to go to work, the consequences of this legislation led to the rise of households with children with no cash assistance available. There are one and a half million households and three million children who live on two dollars a day per person (This calculation is explained in the introduction as including any dollar that made it into a household, no matter what the source, would be considered part of the family’s income, including SNAP (food stamps) which is more like cash than any other governmental program).
These authors present compelling narratives of the struggles of the working poor and the sacrifices they make in order to survive: giving plasma twice a week; living on ramen noodles for two weeks; leaving children in perilous child-care situations; shuttling between family and friends’ couches and shelters, working at less than minimum wage jobs. Many of the stories about the working poor include having to quit jobs when the transportation costs are too high to get to a job, when working conditions cause or exasperate health problems, or where a child becomes ill and the parent needs to stay home, or when food stamps have to be traded for children’s underwear and socks.
Even though the statistics and narratives about those living in poverty are depressing, the authors end their book with some realistic solutions to the overarching problems of the poor in this country and of income disparity. One solution addresses the right of everyone to works and earn a living wage. The authors admit that job creation would cost money and if the private sector didn’t take up this task, the government would need to step in as they did during the Great Depression. They list many jobs that could be funded starting with rebuilding the infrastructure through jobs in after school programs and elder care. In addition to providing an adequate wage, work conditions also need to be safe and fair. One of the narratives about the working conditions of a mother who labored for a cleaning company stands out. She was part of a team that cleaned houses of the evicted which most of the time did not have water. This woman and her team had to provide the water for cleaning, often begging water off of filing stations or neighbors.
Another solution involves safe and affordable housing. If this means subsidized governmental housing, then it must be up to code and not limited to segregated spaces. If a family is living on a full time salaried job at $15.00 an hour, they could afford an apartment with two bedrooms in twenty-two of our states, the researchers conclude. So jobs and housing go hand in hand. A story about housing stands out because of its consequences. One girl, between sixth and ninth grades shared a subsidized three- bedroom apartment with twenty-four other people. And of course there was never enough food. When this young woman was in ninth grade one of her teachers offered her food in exchange for sex.
Finally, the authors suggest that a program that provides actual cash is important. While SNAP help families with hunger, these benefits are often sold for half of their value to help with utilities and rent. Currently there is no cash safety net for families that fall. And, as the authors suggest: “Without cash, they [the poor] can’t meaningfully participate in society.” There is no need to return to our previous welfare system that stole the dignity of the poor. There are other solutions and this book provides them in its conclusion. Like all of the other books that show how institutions fail—The New Jim Crow; Evicted; Nickle and Dimed, So Rich, So Poor, this book provides amble data and amble solutions for dealing with poverty. Read it. Be depressed but be educated as well.

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