The Indignity of Poverty

January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

This story was submitted through our online Hunger Stories.

By Pamela U. Wilson

Have you ever had to ask for help, knowing your children will suffer unless you get it?  Welfare offices call to tell you they have a job for you, but there is no money to get you to work. Questions run through your head: how long will I see my children living in poverty? How long will the cycle of welfare continue?

I was a child living on welfare in the projects with my mom, brothers and sisters. I remember days of no food, clothes and old shoes. I used to see my mom going to trucks for powdered food so that we could eat. To clean our clothes, we had to bend over a tub and wash them by hand, without laundry soap. Our family was often sick with sores, and flies were on us.

The lifestyle of a poor person often comes with loss of pride and of dignity as a human. Poverty is a lifestyle where shame and low self-esteem become a norm. I can remember the terrible conditions families like mine experienced when times were hard.

Imagine if your family lived in extreme poverty: no money for clothes, shoes, medicine, hot water, soap, heat, transportation, hospital visits, or furniture. The beds smell terrible since there are no sheets for the mattresses. The house has a stench of rotten food, milk and old urine. Most of the time food is cooked with old grease. It’s possible that you cannot wash the dishes because the water is cold. The refrigerator doesn’t work and has been broken for weeks. Clothes must be washed out by hand, without warm water.

Perhaps your children go to school wearing smelly, dirty clothes, old shoes, and without school supplies. Your babies have runny noses, open sores, pink eyes, worms, and suffer from malnutrition. The gnats cover the rotten food and trash that you cannot get rid of, since there is nowhere to take it. To see kids living in such poverty, makes me angry.

Now, imagine trying your best to climb out of poverty by begging for help from office-to-office. You circle a few blocks trying to figure out what you will say, until you find out this was the wrong office, and then you have to do it all over again. The county, state or government welfare offices will maybe allocate to your family $75-$250 a month for rent, food and bills. Getting the other necessities for your family is out of the question. Many food banks and clinics are there to help, but there is no way to get there since you don’t have enough money to ride the bus.

Years later, when I started a family of my own, my husband lost his job and we went to the welfare office for help. The state gave our family $259 for the month. This money did not pay all the bills. We had no way to pay for things we needed. We couldn’t use our cars because there was no money for gas. 

Without a steady source of income, food is hard to come by. Sometimes I go home with a can of green beans and old bread, and that is all I can feed my kids. Sometimes our income is so little that we have to ask for help. There are other times I have given my food away to help someone else.

It is still hard waiting for food between pay checks. We have to save money in order to buy gas and get to work. As a diabetic adult, I must take care of what food I can eat being mindful of fats and sugars. When times are tight, I am very grateful for all the food I have received from the Food Bank.

I can understand why people live in shame and despair while living in poverty. Living in this condition has a way to make or break families. Families must get help when they need it, but not lose their dignity as a human beings. My husband and I were fortunately aware that our dignity was the most precious thing we had besides our kids, and our pride remains strong.

Thank you, Pamela, for sharing your story.


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