Home » YABJAYA/Self Love » Hidden In Plain Sight: The Other Face of Poverty

Hidden In Plain Sight: The Other Face of Poverty

*names changed by families request

This portrait of poverty was shared by a lovely family and great friends on the brink of recovery hoping to comfort others in similar circumstances. They are warm, inspiring, and humbled by life. Despite their setbacks, they continue to laugh and forge ahead. I thank them for the privilege of sharing their story with me.

As told by the Kings:

For the past several years we’ve all heard the political debates about the poor and how shiftless, lazy, amoral, uneducated, economic leeches “they” are. Well, we are “they”. My family of four. The Kings. Hidden in plain sight. The other face of poverty. This is not a story of depression nor a cry of sympathy. It is one family’s story of loss, humility, and becoming.

The Loss

We bought the dream and associated clichés. Go to college. Work Hard. Get a great job. Work Hard. Follow your dreams. Pursue your passions. Two liberal arts degrees. Yes, I know {now} what everyone says, “Liberal Arts degrees do not a career make!” However, during the Tech Boom during the budding new millennium anyone could become an IT rock star. So, rock on they did.

After amassing extensive experience and a great resumes, per the various feedback received, the economy takes a tumble, and with it so do the careers of this merry union. Instead of being stagnant, back to school they went to learn a new set of skills within the IT field.

After gaining new skills, updating resumes, months pass while the rejection emails clutter their inboxes; the savings account dwindles, and foreclosure looms.

Humility

Well meaning family and friends suggest, despite having multiple degrees, apply to the local grocery chain (didn’t get hired), fast food collectives (didn’t get hired), each of the big box get everything you could ever need or want under one roof stores (didn’t get hired), electronic stores (didn’t get hired), temp agencies, recruiting agencies, etc. As if each of those things were not attempted after humbling yourself to do whatever it takes to feed your growing family of four.

Because of course, you are not being hired, there must be something wrong with you, your résumé, your interviewing skills; or you are simply being too picky about the type of job, salary, location, or one of several things. The problem must absolutely be you or else you would have job after 1-3-6-9 months. You must not want to work or you simply aren’t trying hard enough, despite applying for several jobs (30+ per day), catering your résumé for said jobs, even crafting cover letters to highlight transferable skills; or “dumbing” down to get jobs that require far less experience and expertise that you have. Yes, we know. Losers. Lazy. Horrible Parents. Horrible Employees.

Yes, we asked for feedback and assistance on resumes, asked for referrals, and all the other things people in our situation do. Some people were helpful, and others were paddling their own canoe in an attempt to stay afloat.

Becoming

The first foray into the Social Services system, we were told: “You don’t look like you need assistance!” Our favorite: “Y’all don’t look like the people we typically get!” That didn’t make us feel much better. Only to discover that we don’t qualify, because we simply aren’t poor enough. $535/a week combined income for a family of four is too much money. That equates to $27,664 for a full year. However, those Unemployment checks only cover a fraction of the household bills. We cut all unnecessary expenses. No cable, Internet only. Free or low cost activities for the kids. Drive only when absolutely necessary. All in an attempt to stretch the rapidly diminishing savings. Then it happens. We lose our home.

One night while packing our belongings and readying ourselves for our new life, I burst into tears at the realization that we are those people. Homeless. Then the fear crept in, what if we get stuck? Stuck in the system. Stuck living in our car. Stuck with nowhere to go (we called several shelters and they were full or you had to be employed to get temporary housing). Stuck on the fringe.

Yeah, at first, it was a blow. Then it was a relief of sorts. Luckily, we had family who were kind enough to open their home. Living with family is humbling and embarrassing. Yes, it was temporary, and yes, we needed a place to stay. However, going from two incomes of $55-60/hour, to surviving on savings and unemployment is a hard pill to swallow.

Only their closet family and friends know. To the rest of the world it is business as usual. Smiling and responding as usual to the question, “How are you?” Great, we say, while silently feeling like an outsider peeking into the picturesque scene of others’ lives. Feeling like outsiders living on the edge of society. Suffering silently with no clue what to do next, except pray. Pray, we did. Every day with earnestness and faith. Wondering aloud at the lessons being learned. Reviewing our past actions and karmic deposits.

Through it all we found ways to keep the children active, engaged, happy, and blind to the worries of adult life. We found ways to communicate, love, laugh, and remain friends with one another. Laugh hard until the tears flowed on some occasions simply to keep from falling. The laughter held us up, as we held each other up in prayer.

We are the homeless not counted by statisticians. We do not exist. We are not uneducated. We are not lazy. We are a family having a temporary hardship. We asked ourselves:

“What happens, should we not bounce back before the kindness of family runs out?”

“What do people like us do?”

“Where do we go?” (Social Services did tell us to let them know where we’d be moving to so that they could transfer our files, especially since it wasn’t processed or assigned to a caseworker. We thought to ourselves: “We don’t have an address!”)

“What now?”

Onward and Upward sounds so cliché, but it is true. We can only go up from here. Forward.

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