Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Poverty blinders

I used to have this problem. Whatever was not immediate and vital to functioning for the day was excluded from my thoughts.

Not altogether abnormal, but when you're poor, there are so many things that would improve the day to day life IF attention were paid to them. For example, applying for utility assistance BEFORE the cold/hot spell. Or remembering to buy groceries that will make packing lunches easy, so you're not stuck trying to make a fake pizza out of a slice of bread, a ketchup packet, and an old string cheese in the work microwave.

When I was coming out of my Hard Core Poor days and living with my parents, I decided I had to repay them for their help and not be much of a burden (though I know we were). I applied for assistance so I could get a child care subsidy, and hunted for work.

So, here was one of the quirks of the system. While you were looking for work and until you got your first paycheck, the child care was covered by the welfare department. Afterward, your case was transferred to a different agency that was open to anyone who wanted to apply, but funding was tight. If you just applied to that agency, it was iffy if you would get any help. But if you were transferred from welfare, you were guaranteed funding. I was so baffled by this paperwork that I nearly LOST my funding more than once, simply because I had my "It's too confusing, I'll go to work, go get the kids, make dinner, go to bed" blinders on. Everything in life felt so exhausting and hard, that even though something could have helped me make it easier, the process of applying was so daunting that I would ignore it.

There were any number of programs that I probably could have taken advantage of over the past years, but I had those poverty blinders. When I was pregnant with Daniel, a friend set up an appointment for me with Morning Star Pregnancy services so I could get some free maternity clothes. I got lost on the way there, got discouraged, and never made it. I didn't bother going back, either. I scraped some cash and spent money I couldn't really afford on clothes that someone would have GIVEN me for free, because I got stuck mentally about making another appointment, getting there on time, bringing my proof of income, and dragging my 3 year old along. I just... couldn't.

I think I'm better about this these days. I can commit to appointments. I still miss some now and then, but I really work on this. I can show up (mostly) on time. I can usually produce the needed paperwork if asked. But back then I was so overwhelmed, so stressed, and so disorganized that it was nearly impossible to do all those things.

So, if you know somebody that's going through this phase, please don't yell or ask "why can't you JUST DO THIS?". Give them a big calendar with lots of room to write things. Show them how to organize their vital paperwork. Offer a ride to an appointment (and put it in Google calendar so you don't forget). Help them plan. Right now they CAN'T plan. Help them schedule. They CAN'T schedule just now. Help them set up a plan to fill out their paperwork (it's so daunting) and a deadline to submit it that's actually a week before the REAL deadline.

They're trying. They're struggling. It's harder than many people would guess. Don't dismiss their efforts.


  1. This should be required reading for volunteers at homeless shelters, soup kitchens and staff too. A little understanding goes a long way.

  2. This should be required reading for volunteers at homeless shelters, soup kitchens and staff too. A little understanding goes a long way.

    1. Thanks, Mom! ;) Sometimes it's hard for people to get it if they haven't had poverty brain/depression (they feed each other).