What comes to mind first is that poverty means waiting. Waiting, and depending on someone else for the things that you need to get through the week. Every day I drive past people waiting for the bus, and I know that if the bus is late or full, someone will be late for where they need to be. I hear conversations at my host site and I know that families have to wait for their child’s school placement, wait to have someone call them back if they are trying to resolve a problem, wait for disciplinary decisions to be made, etc. I know from experience that food stamps involve an awful lot of waiting—and paperwork. Waiting to hear back about job applications, waiting for assistance from DHS so you can heat your home, waiting to see a doctor in a health clinic, waiting till you can afford it to have dental work done, waiting for a spot to open up so your child can go to an after-school program or have a mentor—it goes on.
If you haven’t read any of the responses to Gene Marks’ “If I Were a Poor Black Kid”—ignorance warning!—I definitely recommend them. (The responses, not the article itself.) But the lesson I’ve taken away from the past few months is that a lot of the attempts to patch the holes in the system fall short. Not necessarily in the sense that “if you teach a man to fish he will eat for the rest of his life,” because there are a lot of awesome job training and credit recovery programs out there, but in the sense that they are far from integrated, far from comprehensive, and often create more barriers. For instance, there exists a 52-page document detailing all of the programs that DHS offers, and most of the programs require an individual application. Someone who doesn’t read well, or who has poor eyesight or slow Internet might have a lot of trouble even getting through that document. There are piecemeal attempts to help rather than a real system for helping people out of poverty.
Speaking of my experiences with the public transit system, I’m hesitant to be so excited about things like Xerox building a call center out in Webster. This isn’t the most educated opinion out there, so feel free to call me out or correct me, but call-center jobs aren’t exactly high-paying, family-supporting work for most people, right? People with a college degree are likely to look elsewhere, and they tend to live out in the suburbs. But people without a college degree (or even a high school diploma) are more likely to rely on public transportation…which probably won’t get them to the right part of Webster. I mean, I’m sure the jobs will be filled and that they will help people. But the system is still rigged against residents of the inner city, and I haven’t even written about racism, environmental pollution, or economic practices that pay people less than a living wage.
How has it affected me? I’m frustrated! I’m thinking back to phrases like “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” and I’m determined to use my fancy U of R education (haha) to be part of the solution.