I learned something over the past few days. Life is challenging, but the odds are insurmountable when you live in poverty.
Poverty is not about money. It’s about power. Living in poverty strips you of your power.
Poverty causes you to live in a rundown trailer park with nothing underneath you but a piece of tin foil. Your windows are taped up and your roof leaks. You are afraid to tell the landlord because you’re behind on your rent. You don’t have your personal things because they are in storage somewhere, and you are behind on that payment too … or you were evicted once and not allowed to get your things out of the house.
No one knew you existed until a tornado blew through your trailer park and it put you on the map. You’re a single mother. You work the night shift and you ride your bike to work every evening.
Your children get themselves up and walk two miles to school every day unless the weather is bad. The school is upset because your children are always late or hungry or disruptive. They don’t see the fact your children show up to school every day as completely amazing.
There is no way I could reduce the challenges of poverty to a paragraph. And, these examples are assuming you are white, don’t have a mental illness and are not disabled.
The problems are so big the government can’t even solve them. Half the country is out of work right now.
But, there is a difference between being poor and being submersed in poverty. A man can lose his job and his family can become poor. He believes if he works hard enough, things will get better.
If someone living in poverty paid every bill on time for the rest of their life, they would still be in poverty. That’s why someone can buy beer and cigarettes and not pay their light bill. They know it’s not going to matter anyway. Poverty develops that kind of hopelessness.
Do I think driving down a dirt road to meet a family living in a rundown trailer on top of a piece of tin foil makes a difference?
Maybe. But it’s not just going to the places nobody else wants to go.
It’s about seeing people nobody else sees. That’s what makes the difference.
That’s why I will continue to meet in hotel rooms, stand in line at the health department with pregnant teenagers, and sit with children whose parents steal their allowance to buy drugs.
All that for a mediocre paycheck and a swarming caseload. I will do it because people matter.
The odds are insurmountable when you live in poverty. But, I will go to work again on Monday, believing the odds are in their favor. If I didn’t believe that, I could not do this work.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” — Matthew 25:37-40
Follow Sarah Thompson, who is a social worker in the Enid area, at mysemi-dysfunctionallife.blogspot.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.