In some cities right now, my family would be criminals. Technically, we have no home. After months and months of struggling to keep things together and keep ourselves above water, it all feel apart and we found ourselves faced in the unenviable position of being evicted from our home.
I don’t say these things so that people will feel sorry for me. I say it because it’s the truth.
I am often troubled with telling the truth of poverty in America because people often hit you with the platitudes of “oh, it will get better” or as my mother told me when I finally broke down and told her what was going on: “you’ll figure it out.”
Why should I be troubled that telling of the loss of a job can lead to a family being put out on the streets?
Why should I be troubled that chronic underemployment is a scourge in this country that leads many families to this situation?
And why should I be ashamed to say that this is where I am right now? Doubled up with another family who has been gracious enough to take our family in?
Why should I be ashamed?
“We are in the same boat” – are emails I get from others. Like whispers behind hands. “We are struggling too” – as if some of my friends are ashamed that they too are struggling financially.
As if poverty is shameful.
As if losing your job and constantly looking and searching and begging for work is somehow a black mark on your character. And taking whatever is given to you in hopes that it will keep you holding on just a little bit longer, just a little bit more is somehow a sign of weakness.
No one really understand the pain and confusion of watching friends faces when they do help you and seeing their eyes turn to ice as if you are just too much of a burden to bear until you have to face it. No one really know how it feels to have someone act or tell you that you are not doing enough to help yourself. Or worse yet, being privy to an email from fine “Christian” folk about how you have asked “one time too many” for help, when in fact you never asked for anything more than job referrals and they gave more than that.
Poverty is shameful in this country.
Yet, using caviar face cream is not.
Sleeping in the streets is shameful in this country.
Yet, butt injections are not.
I know the struggle of people experiencing homelessness, because when I had a home, I volunteered with people who were experiencing homelessness. I know how difficult it is to get one month’s rent together, let alone two month’s in a row. If you can’t find suitable and sustainable employment within thirty days, you are labeled a free loader, or a reprobate. I know the whispers behinds hands of “are they worthy?”
I gave my time and energy to many, many people in my former town. I have found a way to make money in my new town – something I was unable to do in my old town – despite repeated attempts at networking and even outright begging for referrals for jobs. I was judged and condemned for my poverty and eventually we were kicked out. But not before I read an email that said “I don’t understand…” in judgment of my circumstances.
Well, I don’t understand either.
I don’t understand how I can give of myself over and over and over and still struggle to keep a roof over my children’s head. I don’t understand how the people who are the most giving are the ones that seem to have the least to give or are the ones that are always giving.
The friend who is helping me right now is not my family, but they feel like family to me.
And I feel like a burden. I know they do not feel like that about me, but I cannot help but feel like that because I know their struggles. I know how much they have given and continue to give.
So, I feel that I need to get out of the way for the next person who has greater need. I feel that it should have never gotten to this point for me. For all that I have done for others, for the fact that I actually do have a family, it should have never gotten to this point for me.
But it has.
And I feel like a criminal. I feel the shame of poverty that this country loves to put on those who find themselves in this position.
I know that we will get out of this hole. We are already on a better path. Current employment will lead to being able to secure a home. Securing a home will lead to fortifying this position.
And I will get back to the business of helping others again. To the business of paying forward the kindness that is currently being shown to me and my family.
And there are many others out there just like me. Hiding in shame because of circumstances spiraling out of control. Because of friends and family that would rather judge than help. Because of a system that would rather reward those that hoard than help those that need.
Who is there to help them?
Poverty is not a crime. So, why does it feel like it?