The families we serve are faced with the challenge of getting their financial life on stable ground. One might think once they have done that through improving income or decreasing expenses that they would be on their way. First, we cannot emphasize enough that poverty is NOT a budgeting issue. No doubt some clients need to learn how to better manage their resources, but for most low-income families a balanced budget is not possible when you just do not have enough to cover the cost of your basic needs.
The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is enough.
Second, even when families are able to find a path to financial stability sometimes that is not enough. It is becoming more and more common that families who were following a path that would have led to success a few months ago are coming up short now.
Here is a current example. One client, who is the great grandparent and guardian for a three year old boy, has received a housing voucher. This voucher will allow her to only pay 30% of her wages toward rent. Without this subsidy she cannot afford housing. For her, this is a godsend! Unfortunately, she has struggled to find a landlord who would accept the voucher. There are many reasons, but some we have heard stated was that the voucher comes with too much paperwork, or the landlord feels that those who need assistance are a greater financial risk. This voucher guarantees a landlord will always receive 70% of their rent. Or others are very blatant, "We do not want to deal with 'those' people."
Courtney has been helping this client search for a housing option for over two months. There have been many disappointments. During their search they were well aware that the allotted time for the grandmother to use the voucher was passing. If she does not use it by the end of this week she will lose it.
At the end of last week, they found a single bedroom apartment with a landlord who will accept the voucher. When the landlord submitted the paperwork to the agency however, it was more than the quoted amount. The one bedroom is now listed at $1200 per month. Unfortunately this surpasses the limit allowed for a one bedroom apartment. The voucher cannot be used for this unit. The agency suggested that our client try to negotiate a new rent with the landlord. The landlord said they will only work with the agency.
We tell this story because it illustrates how difficult it is for someone to escape poverty. Poverty is like quicksand that can swallow you up quickly and does not let go willingly. The setbacks that low-income families have are the result of not having enough, an unforgiving economic structure and a society that is suspicious of and blames those in poverty for their own plight. Even the systems designed to assist, often have policies that make it difficult to receive assistance.
It can become so overwhelming that it is easy to quit and accept what seems to be your fate. Often those in poverty succumb to the tyranny of the moment. A term that implies if you do not see a way out and have lost hope you do not plan for the future. Your focus is on surviving and enjoying when you can. To escape poverty, each person must have an enormous level of perseverance, fortitude and hope.
As of this writing, we do not know how the story of this great grandma will end. We continue to scramble and look for other options for her and hope that by some miracle the landlord and agency might find an agreement that is mutually acceptable. We also continue to look for new options and hope that after three months of searching, another landlord who accepts vouchers will step forward.
What we ask of you is to remember the hardships that those who are experiencing homelessness face. And to help those who only the stereotypes to understand the evil that poverty can be.