April 16, 2007

Click - Part One

by Guest Contributor AlphaGirl

“You never know when something is going to happen to change your life.
You expect it
to arrive with fanfare, like a wedding or a birth
but instead it comes in the most
ordinary of circumstances.
The Roman goddess Fortuna snaps her fingers

and changes the channel - click
-- excerpt from What Remains, by Carol Radziwill

The Roman goddess Fortuna was very busy snapping her fingers on March 14th. Click. My hours at work were cut to less than part-time. Click. Job duties were subtracted. Click. My boss brought in her sister to do my other job duties. No explanation. No discussion. Click. Within days of the hours reduction, I lost my job. Click. My life, as I knew it, was over.

Like 65% of Americans, I lived paycheck to paycheck. This wasn’t due to irresponsible spending; it was due to a high cost of living, and a comparably small salary. Once rent, utilities and bills were paid, there was no disposable income, no money to set aside into savings, even with a small business on the side. I had new reason to resent the stereotype of the hyper-educated, hyper-achieving childfree person with oodles of disposable income. Nothing could be further from the truth for me. I am now without a job, without income, and if things don’t change quickly, I will be without a place to live. Click.

The days since my job loss have been a blur. Filing for unemployment insurance. Registering with several different temp agencies. Posting resumes on electronic job boards. Scrambling to expand my part-time pet-sitting business into full-time with no start-up capital. Hobbies have been abandoned in the name of survival. The cost of gas to drive to my track club’s weekly meeting place/training site has suddenly become prohibitive. In an instant, I lost myself completely. Click.

I had to pay April’s rent. My parting gifts from my employer did not include severance pay. A social worker girlfriend of mine suggested contacting private agencies to see if emergency rental assistance were available. “We only assist families” one told me after hearing my “household size”. Time and time again, that was the response. After many calls, I located a church nearby that would help, provided I showed proof that I had half the rent. In the meantime, Cathy hit the phones, calling around until she located an agency that didn’t base aid on family size. She rushed the grant application, and in the section that asked “How would this gift enrich the recipient’s life?” She wrote, “It will prevent homelessness”. Pure and simple. In the end, neither agency helped out. The church refused to help, because now I was unemployed, and how could I prove I would not need their services next month? Cathy called the same afternoon to report the bad news that “her” agency was not going to help…..again, based on household size, I was not considered in strong enough need. I can understand wanting to take care of kids whose parents had hit hard times, but at the expense of others?

That afternoon was spent in a state of fear and outrage. Essentially, I was not worth these groups’ money. In my anger and complete terror at the thought of losing my apartment, I wondered that if I had come into agency interviews with kids in tow, would my outcome have been different? Would I have gotten assistance? Of course. Silly me for being a responsible, proactive person for not have waited until near eviction before seeking assistance. Silly me for not having kids because I didn’t want them. Silly me for having worked and paid taxes since the age of 13, and having hit a rough spot just now. I joked about becoming a crack mama in my next life, as those folks seem to hit the mother lode when it came to assistance. It seemed as though even hard-working, sober, intact families were being turned away, but not at near the rate that single people and couples without kids get turned away. In essence, these agencies' actions told me I was not worth their help/time/resources because I had not reproduced. My “household size” had worked against me.

Cathy admitted she had to agree, and shared my outrage. Yes, funding is tight at agencies, yes, families are important, yes to all of that. But,...
...as a single person with no family/personal resources, and who has humbled herself to ask for help, am I any less worthy because I chose not to reproduce?

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Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear your circumstances, and am appalled to think there is NO help out there for someone like you, simply because your "family size" is one. So it's ok for someone to become homeless if they don't have children?

I'm outraged for you, for sure.

AlphaGirl said...

there is one bright spot on the agency horizon-Share Ourselves(SOS) in Costa Mesa, CA.
They were able to pay my past-due water bill, and gave me a $20.00 gas voucher. Rental assistance is provided only if eviction is in process(I have not reached that point and never hope to). Regardless of household size, you must meet their criteria before receiving assistance. they have a free medical and dental clinic, and everyone is treated with compassion and dignity. This has been the only agency where "household size" doesn't determine assistance.

Teri said...

AlphaGirl - You are brave to write these words for publication. What you are doing is important. Writing can be healing and centering.

On behalf of all of the readers of this blog, thank you for this enlightenment.

Please don't give up on yourself or the compassion of others, and please do keep us posted.

Part two of this post will be published on Wednesday.

Jill said...

Is there anything that we can do to help you? Grocery money, gas money? I also understand about the lack of disposable income. My husband live paycheck to paycheck as he is military (and they don't earn much and it's the families there that get the assistance) and I'm only part-time at my job. But if there is anything at all that I could do to help, please shout! Email me at jsodt at ksu dot edu.

LauraS said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It's true! There is persistant stereotype that the childfree are free-spending DINKs, sipping wine while we uncrate the the new plasma flat screen.
I've interviewed too many to let this stereotype go unchallenged. I also mentor a young single mom so I know how our social assistance agencies are set up to help women like her to the exclusion of single people or married couples.
I admire your persistance, your dignity in the worst possible circumstances, and your voice. It rings clear and true and offers something much closer to the full spectrum of the childfree experience, and you show us how stereotypes influence social policy and effect real lives.

M said...

Alpha Girl,

I am always amazed at how much I can relate to your posts. This one especially struck a nerve for me. Before I go on, I want to tell you how sorry I am about the circumstances you are currently in and that I am thinking of you and wishing for you to find some assistance immediately.

As for the rest of your post, I totally agree with you about the stereotype of the freewheeling, carefree, high living childfree adult who spends all their excess time and income on travel, a beautiful home or loft, and the pursuit of exotic passions and hobbies.

I too do not fit this definition by even a little. I have a chronic illness which limits my hobbies, travel, independence, and among other things, finances. I too struggle with issues of survival and concerns for how I will get by, especially in my future as I am not expected to get better.

I think some of the clash between those without children and parents is due to society's uneven standards for parents and nonparents. I also feel upset at times that parents are treated preferentially in certain situations, for example by often being allowed more late days and sick days at work than coworkers without children.

I think the same thing you did at times: why, when I am being responsible by not adding a child to the world when I am not in a stable enough financial (and otherwise) situation to fully care for it, am I punished for my responsible decision?

But there are so many factors that go into this issue, too many to get into here on a comment, and really too many even for one post--I've tried writing one and gave up. I can see various sides to the issue (of different standards for parents and nonparents), but I can also definitely relate to what you're feeling. Your welfare is definitely no less important than anyone else's.

I hope that unemployment can be enough of a help for you till you are able to secure other work or assistance. I wish I had some suggestions about where you can get assistance but I don't know much about that.

I do think this whole country needs an overhaul because there are far too many hardworking people who live just as precariously, paycheck to paycheck, and who are one layoff, one illness, or one other unwelcome event away from homelessness--and that's not to mention all the people who are living in poverty and homelessness already.

If there were better social supports for everyone, I believe all people, parents, and childfree and every other type of person, would be much less likely to resent and clash with the "other." As long as we are in a struggle for survival, we will likely feel resentment of those who do not have to face quite the same struggle that we do or who are given advantages that we are not.

Thinking of you and wishing you the best . . .

AlphaGirl said...

Teri-Thank you for the words of encouragement. I felt this would be the perfect forum to bring this issue to life, via my personal experience with public/private agencies. I wish the outcome were different. Public policy needs a serious overhaul, and it starts with one voice.

Jill-Thank you for your kindness. I will email you off-list..

LauraS: I had also applied for food stamps to tide me over until I got a determination notice from the unemployment department. It was interesting to note that in my food stamp hand-outs that any able-bodied adult between 18-64 with no dependents must actively seek employment. Those with dependents were given a waiver of this requirement. Not too sure about the message this sends to said dependents; I think a working parent is a more appropriate role model, especially during trying times when money is tight.

M- You are so right. Any time groups are pitted against one another, it does bring out a survival instinct, the classic "us vs. them" scenario. I could not have said it better myself. I also struggle with health problems that can limit my stamina/ability to work long hours. You are in my thoughts as well.

Strawberry Muffin said...

So terribly sorry to hear of your circumstances. That's what I fear the most about becoming a self-supporting adult, that time between jobs. I wish you all the luck in your job search.

Hugs! :)