It was with a judgmental attitude that I began working with those in poverty about 15 years ago. I figured that I could inspire and motivate them to get off of the couch and get to work.
Over the years, I discovered that while personal choices do often have a role to play in poverty, society also creates difficulties for low income people that make life difficult. The bottom line: it ain’t easy being poor.
Here are some realities that you may not realize low income people are dealing with consistently in their quest NOT to be hungry, homeless, or hopeless.
10 Harsh Realities That Only Low Income People Will Truly Understand
1.) Laundromat Lunacy
Until last summer, I never really understood the pain of the Laundromat. We were moving and had temporarily set up home in a small apartment that had no washer and dryer. I have always thought of laundry as a small impact on my daily schedule. You sort and get the laundry going and then you can do other tasks.
Once every 30-40 minutes, you move the laundry forward and then take time at some to fold or hang up clothing as appropriate. It is the ultimate multi-task, task. However, when you need to go to the Laundromat, you cannot simply take off to do other tasks. There’s a chance your clothing won’t be there when you return.
I thought that I could get work done while I waited for the clothes to wash or dry, but with screaming children, an old black-and-white television blaring, and other distractions that simply was NOT going to happen. The lunacy of the Laundromat becomes a mission and a task all alone that can take up a good portion of your day.
2.) Bathroom Issues
Now with almost 15 years of experience of working with low income people, I feel that I can share a crude but real issue that often plagues those that are homeless. You see, for many, they never feel quite safe going to the bathroom so they do what they must.
They hold it and they hold it and they hold it. At the shelters where I have worked, they check in and soon begin to feel safe. Then they unload and it clogs toilets. For those that never find a safe shelter, health issues can soon arise.
3.) Creative Tool Usage
Having the right tools is awesome. I love to find the correct screwdriver, hammer, or scissors as the situation may require. Over the years, I have collected a wide assortment of items and know people who can share tools as needed.
What if, though, you had a need for scissors but you don’t have any? For those with a bit of cash, they can easily go to the store and make a purchase. However, if you are on a tight budget, you may have to make do with what you have.
In this example, a knife can serve as scissors, a screwdriver, a pry bar and of course, as a knife if you need to defend yourself.
4.) Money Sharing Woes
An unwritten rule of the culture of poverty is that: if I have money, and you need it, I will share it with you. With that rule in place, low income people will often get visits from friends and family on the same day that any check is expected.
5.) Unstable Housing
Nearly every time there is an election, housing rules and programs for those in poverty changes. Social workers change out regularly and some are easier to work with than others. Those in poverty live on the edge consistently of losing their housing with any of these changes.
Add to that the challenge that these houses are typically located in unsafe neighborhoods and you begin to get a sense for just how unstable their situation can be.
6.) Medical Madness
How awesome it is to live in a nation where we can run to the drug store and get cold medicine or have some Tylenol on hand for those aches and pains. Low income people on the other hand, must go to the doctor first if they want help from the state for medicine.
Of course, as you are in pain right now or that cold is threatening your ability to keep that minimum wage job, you go to the emergency room. That five-dollar bottle of aspirin just went up to over $100.
7.) Shelter Shenanigans
I of course, am thrilled that we have shelters for those who are living on the streets or other unsafe locations. I have been working at shelters now for over 14 years. But the game play and the soap opera that takes place within them is actually better than any reality television ever produced.
Gossip and rumors get people chased out of the shelters. Sometimes, the staff is cruel as they experience burn out just as often as guests are trying to move up on the pecking order and work to get others out of their way.
8.) Food Bank Fixin’s
Food banks are great for getting people fed. No doubt the bags of groceries are saving lives and filling hungry bellies. However, those food banks must give what has been donated by others. Over the years, I have watched as the healthy options in that bag are very limited.
Over time, those in poverty develop a taste for junk food and their health suffers. Ultimately, the life that we saved with the food bank was made unhealthy and will cost our society much to help restore them to good health.
9.) Transportation Troubles
On bad grocery shopping days and I have had to park at the back of the parking lot, I cringe a bit as I have to dodge moving cars and other obstacles on my way to place my groceries in my vehicle. But that is minor compared to those who are in poverty.
They need to somehow navigate their groceries all the way back to their homes without a car. Think of what it would be like to carry your groceries on the city bus. Some opt for a taxi, but that would raise the cost of their meals.
Think of getting to work, particularly if you can only get a minimum wage job that has hours late into the night. Transportation troubles can keep a person in poverty.
10.) Social Worker Woes
In many parts of the nation, social worker life spans are short. They have a passion for helping people, but that passion wanes as they are challenged by a system that rarely understands or people who are feeling entitled and are demanding.
Many social workers will work for less than five years and move on to other professions – professions that cause less emotional pain. What this means for those in poverty is that they need to work with someone new and maybe less experienced. Often times, low income people know more about the system than the social workers.
Low income people are typically NOT lazy – they just long for a better life. They do not all have addictions, they are NOT stupid, and they are willing to work harder than most of us. They simply lack the resources to get their life moving.
We can become mentors for those in poverty and help them move forward. Learn from them and share with them your keys to success. But listen to them first. Seek to understand them and they will teach you how to really change your world.