Life on the Edges: Pass The Buck
As part of our theme for 2018, #StandInTheGap, we will be featuring a special series on our blog called 'Life on the Edges' which is the real story of Kandace and her daily experiences living, thriving, surviving and working to get her family out of poverty. Kandace will share her experiences twice a month for "Life on the Edges'. We hope that you'll follow this series and Kandace's story and learn more about poverty from a first hand account and that you will join us as we #StandInTheGap for people and families like Kandace's. For a little background on Kandace and an introduction to this series read our post 'Kandace with a K', and then learn how you can get involved with our #StandInTheGap project.
Poverty isn’t something that they teach you about in grade school or college. There is no “Surviving Poverty 101”; and if there was, it would probably be inaccessible to those who need it the most. Just like everything else in life, poverty is happenstance.
Not everyone who lives in poverty meets the “standard” on which we as a society judge the poor. Not everyone walks around in dirty, tattered clothing holding a handwritten cardboard sign begging for help. Not everyone who is impoverished sleeps on sidewalks and park benches.
There are those of us who have a home, vehicle and access to resources but still have needs that aren’t met. There are those of us who work two or three jobs just to be able to be broke. There are those of us who dress in clean and colorful clothing.
Pride can be a hard pill to swallow. Having to depend on others to help get your basic needs met hurts the heart. To add insult to injury, there’s always someone wanting to dismiss your efforts by telling you that you don’t work hard enough or don’t budget well enough.
Poverty isn’t just something you can work your way out of. If it was, I would have been out of it years ago - long before my child was born. There’s such a huge misconception that poor people are that way because they want to be. That’s not how poverty works, though; and you can’t budget yourself out of poverty if your basic necessities cost more than whatever income you bring in.
It’s easy for those who have to judge those who have not. What isn’t easy is to admit to ourselves and others is that poverty is a systematic issue that delves deeper than what one can see on the outside. Your coworker, your neighbor, or maybe even a close friend or family member could be in the trenches of poverty and you would never know it unless they told you.
If you passed me on the street, you would have no idea that I live in poverty. You wouldn’t know that each month, I have to pick and choose which bills get paid and when; because there’s never enough money for all of them. You wouldn’t know that I skip one to two meals each day; partly to help stretch the grocery budget. You wouldn’t know that I have guilt over buying things that my child and I need. Most importantly, you would never know how hard I work to change these circumstances for us; but this is an issue that is so much larger than just me and my child. It is my hope with this blog of my thoughts and experiences, a conversation can be had. Sometimes, we listen better to people we don’t know (I know my toddler does).
With that being said, allow me to introduce myself: I am Kandace with a K. I am a (not so average) millennial, dedicated single mother and hardworking caregiver; and I live life on the edges of poverty. I hope you’ll follow along as I share the trials and tribulations of the struggle to make it in a world that cherishes dollar bills more than humanity of people.
Recently, I was sitting in a social worker’s cubicle at a local community agency, hoping that they would be able to help with my past due energy bill. By this time, the energy company had already added on the current month’s charges and I was facing a bill that was more than my rent. I honestly had no idea if they would help. While I was sure that I was poor, I was unsure of if I was poor enough to meet their assistance requirements; or if my proof of being poor would be sufficient enough for them.
The search for assistance in poverty tends to take a bit of an accusatory tone. “Where do you live? Who lives with you? Do you work? How much do you make? Are you in school? How much are your expenses?” Sometimes, the questions lie in what isn’t being directly asked. Mining for as much information about you as they can get so they can plug in bits and pieces of your life into an outdated formula to find out how much assistance you’re worthy of getting.
Across the aisle from me was a middle aged woman who needed the same help I did. I hear her tell her caseworker that in the twelve years she has lived in her current residence; her lights have never been turned off. It’s what she said next that hit me hard.
“I went around door to door in my neighborhood, asking if anyone could help me. It was $20 here, $40 there, but I was able to get enough to get my lights back on”.
As she talked about her school schedule and need to care for her elderly mother as she tried to figure out when the best time would be for a follow-up appointment, I tried to contain my restless toddler and thought about how hard it was to ask friends and strangers alike for help.
That was an experience I was all too familiar with.
There’s a running joke among some of my friends that we keep passing the same $20 back and forth to each other.
If you’re looking for the punch line, there isn’t one. It’s precisely how we make sure everyone is taken care of. When someone needs something, we chip in what we can and use our online and offline connections to get more help. And while I feel that this process isn’t something any of us mind doing, it’s not something we should have to do.
We shouldn’t have to fundraise to keep people sheltered, fed, bathed and clothed. We shouldn’t have to solicit donations so that people can get medical care. We shouldn’t have to crowdfund to make sure that people’s basic, everyday needs get met.
I see it all the time, though. On an almost daily basis, a friend or a friend of a friend needs something so we click and share and beg and plead until the need gets met. Sometimes, I am that friend.
As the social worker asked questions and typed on her computer, I held my breath and hoped that the price would be right. I had more bills than money, and had no idea how or even if this would work.
Suddenly, the social worker says “It looks like we’ll be able to provide $386.25 in assistance and you’ll have a co-pay of $42.92”.
Whew. Forty something dollars is much more manageable than the $423.87 that was past due.
An even bigger relief was the fact that I actually got assistance. Before I turned to friends and strangers to help, I reached out to organizations and churches in my neighborhood that have been designated to help those in need.
That’s always the first thing they ask when you need help. “Did you call ______?”
Unbeknownst to them (or maybe they do know and just don’t care), calling around does little to no good. I took off a day of work to go to one place and was met with a sign that said all financial requests must have an appointment scheduled on the phone. When you call, you get no answer. I went in anyways and explained my situation to the receptionist, only to be told that they couldn’t even help me because of what zip code I live in.
Then, I called a church and their voicemail said not to leave a message.
After that call was another church’s voicemail, which instructed callers to call the person responsible for handling financial requests. Her voicemail said to leave a message and they would get back to you at their earliest convenience because they were volunteers. The voicemail inbox was full, so no message was left.
Finally, there was the one church where I actually got to speak to someone. Unfortunately, she quickly said there was no assistance available.
I was out of options and almost out of time; so I put out another plea.
“I know I ask a lot, but it’s an emergency. We’re gonna be without water”. I posted a picture of the $238.47 notice and hoped for the best. Mere hours before this appointment with the social worker, I was able to pay the past due water bill because of my friends and their friends and their friends.
With the utilities taken care of, it was time to turn all of my energy to the past due rent. After all, what good is fighting to keep everything turned on if you lose the house? Eviction was hanging in the loom for us.
Everyone wants their money when they want it. They don’t care about inclement weather or illness preventing you from working. They don’t care about a cut in hours or job loss. They don’t care that you’re working yourself to death to make ends meet. When you live life on the edges of poverty, you are a dollar amount first and a person later.
“You know, I feel like the most important expenses a person could have are their rent/mortgage and their vehicle”, my landlord said as I called to let him know the rent would be late -- again. “I just don’t understand why this is the fourth month in a row”
My mind raced thinking about all the circumstances that landed me where I was.
“Well?”, he asked.
Sure, I could tell him about the snowball effect of a winter storm. How my car died, which caused me to get fired. How I had to crowdfund to get the battery replaced and the babysitter paid, so that I could get back to work. How the babysitter demanded a deposit I couldn’t afford; because I used all the money I could scrape together to pay her. How finding childcare that not only fits my non-traditional work schedule but also is reliable, affordable and accessible AND could wait a week until I could work and get some money to pay is an uphill battle. But then that makes me look like I can’t take care of my responsibilities, which makes me look like an even worse tenant than paying late does.
I stumbled over my words. “Well, I… ummmm…. uh…”
The frustration in his voice was loud and clear. “I just don’t get it. It’s not my business, but I just don’t get it. Did your hours get cut? Are you even still working? What’s going on? Are you on drugs? I mean, I don’t know what to say if you are but I guess we can work to get you some help...”
Oh, landlord. Of course something is wrong; but it most certainly isn’t that. Truth be told, I think he knew it wasn’t that. He just didn’t know what it was; and any answer was better than no answer. Spending money on that is a more logical explanation than never having it in the first place. With the conversation going in circles, I try to buy the only thing I can afford: time. Time to get the rent paid. Time to figure out what happens next. He agreed, but warned me that he was sending a certified letter in case things fell through and he needed to file for eviction.
Just what I needed.