Monday, September 24, 2007

this is how it starts (jumping off)

My car, once jumped, refused to turn over again. Fortunately we have the resources to have it towed to a mechanic and spin the car repair wheel. But the car will be out of commission for a while and taking public transportation would delay me from work an hour or more by the time I take M to one part of town and head back across. Fortunately again my brother has stashed his car at our house for a month and even left the keys on the counter.

This small event would cripple some families. Some families would have slept inside their car or waited hours till a stranger took pity on them. Some families would have driven that broken car home and when they discovered it dead in the morning would have had no money for a tow and no money to fix it anyways.

Some families would have been unable to make it to work on time the next day and would have lost their job. Maybe not the first day but probably on the second. And then they wouldn't get paid at the end of the week and their rent is due. They'd get a notice to evict a week later and by then they are terrified. The car is still broken and food is running low in the fridge. The baby gets sick and they have to take her to the doctor in the middle of the night and the cab fare takes the rest of their money.

Frantic, they call her mom who lives across the country on a fixed income and while she wants to help she has little to spare. She is worried but helpless. They call a guy they know but they've got no room since his brother in law moved in last week. A few weeks into this the landlord is really on their ass - pay up or move out. The baby is still sick. Dad is in trouble too - he's had cancer for the past year and can't work and can't do too much at home. Her job paid the medical and now that she's lost it he's having to figure out how to get chemo at the county hospital and how to get there on the bus.

They don't know their rights well enough to know that they can stay in their apartment longer even if it means an eviction in the end. That their landlord can't really force them to move, that there are legal procedures to follow. They don't know this and don't want to cause trouble anyways and so they cram a bunch of their stuff in their broken car and leave it in the lot.

They stay at a friend's house for a couple of days till it becomes apparent that they've worn out their welcome. Her friend's sister tells her about a shelter, the one downtown. They take a bus to the shelter and terrified, they walk inside. They are met warmly or brusquely depending on the hour but either way there is either room or not. Today is a good day and there is space for them on the floor.

For the first time in their lives they are homeless. As they try and fall asleep with the baby between them they look at each other, terrified and confused. Thirty days ago they had a running car and a job and a healthy baby and a cancer fighting dad. Tonight they have nothing and are sleeping in a shelter. Dad's pain meds are almost out and the baby is still coughing.

Once you open the door all hell can break loose. I've seen hundreds of families go from 0 to 60 into homelessness and it all started somewhere. A car that won't start, an illness you can't shake. I am filled with gratitude because we've got resources to spare and this gets to be an inconvenience at most but for some it's tragedy and all that is different about we and them is a little bit of money in the bank.

Not quite done yet - Part Three up soon.

38 comments:

liv said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. We, those of us who are blogging and reading with a roof over our heads are so blessed. Even at our worst, writhing in the misery of divorce, what could be, what really is, my best friend and I know that we are so fortunate. Our children are not hungry, the lights are on, and they have clothes that fit.

The truth is, as you wrote, that there is truly not very much between most of us and the poverty line. We are busting it to make each day work for us.

And somewhat related, I just want to say I love you.

Anonymous said...

we are fortunate to have a roof over our heads and food to eat and our health. the path from 0-60 has never been all that clear to me, but this is a good way to show how it could happen to people.

urban urchin

kiki said...

this is so terrifying and so real. for all of us. and as i sit here in my beautiful home, my belly full, i'm blessed 100 times over. my heart hurts that this story is the reality for far more people than it should be.

flutter said...

I have so been there.

Orangeblossoms said...

The thing we fail to realize, I think, is that none of us are truly so far from the scenario you lay out today. A few lost paychecks, a home disaster, a health emergency..... all could put us on the street within months or a year. We have got to take better care of our neighbors.... and ourselves.

Deezee said...

great reveal of how it can happen...

Her Grace said...

What orangeblossoms said.

So often, I let that fundraising envelope from the local shelter sit and sit and sit. "I just don't have it this week," I'll say. But I do have it, every week. I'm sending it out today, thanks to you, Jen.

kgirl said...

me and chris were just talking about how lucky we are. it's a conversation that we don't have often enough.

Anjali said...

Such a scary, desperate chain of events. I'm glad you had the resources to avoid the worst outcome.

carrie said...

Having food in your refrigerator -

Having medical insurance -

Having a car that runs, and the resources to do something if it doesn't.

Having a savings account -

Having healthy kids -

May we never take these things for granted. Thank you for the reminder.

Mad Hatter said...

The strength of our Canadian dollar is a daily reminder to me of homelessness in the States. It's all because of the collapse in the US housing market. For some, the word "market" jumps out of that last sentence. For me, the word "housing" screams ominously.

Karen said...

my heart is pounding.

thailandchani said...

One of the first things to address, it seems to me, is making it readily known what resources are available.

Most poor people have no idea. MediCal, Section 8 .. all of those things at least provide some means of cushion.. providing it is caught soon enough.

Perhaps I will write a post about this one day. Most of the people who read my site at all know that I live on a fixed income - social security - and I have made use of available services because that is what prevents the kind of catastrophe you describe. My life isn't abundant in the consumer sense of that. Nor is it hellish. It's.. okay. It's safe. And I'm content.

Many of these services are hidden from plain sight though.. and when people need them most, they don't know they're available or how to access them.


Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Kyla said...

You know, things are really tight for us because I stay home with KayTar and my part time work ended two months ago. I do see how easily one thing can lead to another and it all gets away from you too quickly. Thankfully, we have such a support net under us, and even though at times things feel uncomfortably tight, truly, they are not...I'm just used to so much excess. There are so many without these privileges who cannot stay afloat when these things happen.

Blog Antagonist said...

Yes. You illuminate so clearly what many people just cannot grasp. Homeless is always or even usually a matter of laziness or poor choices. It's bad luck and life circumstances and twists of fate. And those are things we are all vulnerable to.

Maybe if people could understand that there wouldn't be such a stigma associated with homelessness.

painted maypole said...

this is really beautiful and an eye opening reminder. I think so many people think of the homeless as the person too lazy or stupid to find work, the person who spent all their money on drugs, the person who has no friends or family.... but there are so many other stories out there. Thanks for sharing.

Tabba said...

i can't wait for the rest...

Mrs. Chicky said...

Scary. Scarier than the scariest horror movie.

Lawyer Mama said...

Yes. Exactly. I can't wait to see your part III.

I think one reason why some people turn a blind eye to the homelessness problem, or the health care problem, is because they can't see it ever happening to them. But for so many people it's just a paycheck or two away.

Wonderful post and wonderful reminder, Jen.

Jennifer said...

Yes, yes. It's horrifying, to really consider that it can happen that easily. For some more quickly than others. But, it can happen to anyone. It all makes my heart ache.

Momish said...

I have seen this too and know what you are saying. I have come frightening close to it myself, letting pride get in the way of seeking the help that was out there for me.

Not everyone is as fortunate. It is scary and very very real. I hope your car gets back in shape soon!

Janet said...

Most of us, with that little safety net we take for granted, have no clue how quickly some families can go from 0 to 60. I think it's even more salient, in the U.S., where you need to have healthcare coverage. At least, in Canada, we can always get care for ourselves and our children, when we're sick. Of course the drugs to treat illness, are another matter entirely.

When I watched the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, that loving father and beautiful little boy, running to try and get a spot in the shelter, and the little boy dropping his only toy on the road, without the time to go back and fetch it. That movie haunted me. Still does.

Ally said...

Thank you for this post, Jen, and the reminder that it isn't always poor choices that lead to homelessness. Not all homeless are addicts, mentally ill, or convicts. And it can happen so fast. This was a great illustration of that.

QT said...

Just catching up on all this. There was a time when I literally had nowhere to go. I had the job and the car, but nowhere to live that I could afford. I looked every day, but could not find a thing. Finally, I rented a storage space and put all my stuff in it and prepared to start living in cheap motel rooms until I could find an apartment.

I was so lucky a (much older)coworker let me rent a room in her home for a few months until something could be found. So lucky.

Cecilieaux said...

One of the things policymakers never realized in 1996 -- or didn't care enough to think through -- is that once you ask someone below, at or even up to 200 percent of the poverty line, to get a job, you're setting this person (usually a mom with 2 kids under 6) up to fail unless you provide:

-- free child care;

-- medical care;

-- a job with a flexible boss;

-- transportation to from work, child care and home; and

-- food supplements.

CalWorks doesn't do it. Free child care is in extremely short supply. Free medical care is available (in California, but not too many places). Most low-wage jobs have bosses that would have fired Jen for being late. Most U.S. cities have a public transportation network that stinks (thanks to the purposeful destruction of what existed between the 1930s and 40s by General Motors).

Good job putting a middle class face on these conundrums, Jen!

bgirl said...

a very powerful story of reality.
the reminder that we don't know the details of others and how or why they got there, in some cases by 'us'

crazymumma said...

Its one of my favorite reminders to myself. 'you are one incident, one misstep, your fault or not, from being homeless'.

There but by the grace of....

FENICLE said...

I agree. I'm thankful for the blessing I ignore.

KC said...

It's frightening how fast it can happen. And how out of nowhere it can happen. I can't imagine the stress involved- the mental and emotional and physical stress that can beat down a person.

mitzh said...

So true indeed. We really should be thankful even for littlest thing that we sometimes take for granted.

Ruth Dynamite said...

This is terrifying.

NotSoSage said...

As I said before, that line "I could easily be you." Thank you, Jen, for writing this. I need to bookmark it and show it to anyone who ever dares to brag about how hard they've worked to get where they are and why can't other people just pull up their bootstraps and do the same.

mamatulip said...

Scary, sad, and true.

Very real. Heartbreakingly real.

Amy York said...

I have never thought about things this way...
I am so grateful. Thank you.

Julie Pippert said...

You are so right. You know, when I say, 'Wow, what would we have done if we hadn't had (insert privilege/solution)..." and people say, "Oh don't talk that way, it's all fine," and I think "What a blessing to be able to talk that way."

KWIM?

I don't like to talk about it much for there is a group of us that car share/ride share with a single mom and her kids. She's been trying for over a year to get a car, and had been unemployed in large part because she is utterly crippled here (no public tran at all!) without a car. I know what it's like.

Julie
Using My Words

Bon said...

this hit home tonight, Jen.

my mother's lived just on the "lucky" side of this resource divide all my life, and i keep waiting for the shoe to drop, for the fall into the river, for the pension-less forced retirement that - failing all else - will come in six years while she socks away pennies and keeps her head down, trudging along, busting her ass in a job that will never allow her to really get on her feet, never own a home, never have a secure old age...unless she - sigh - comes to live with me.

it isn't only money but the agency that comes with believing you can make money, with being willing to ask for information or help. once you get that agency, or if you grow up with it, it's hard to believe that it isn't accessible to all. but to many it's as foreign as the moon.

(erm...my long-winded way of saying 'amen'?)

alejna said...

It is so frightening what can happen when we don't have our safety net. Even those of us that have a safety net don't know how much strain it can bear, and for how long.

Thanks for these posts, jen. You make a very strong point. I look forward to the next installment.

Susanne said...

Thank you very much for this post. I also found Chani's comment very interesting because it's good to know that there are resources for people in need even if they aren't plenty. Then the next step would be to inform more people about that.