Imagine this scenario: You and your family are, as are most people in the U.S., what is called “asset poor.” That is, if family income suddenly disappeared, you would have inadequate reserve cash to live even at the poverty level for three months ($1,962.50 per month for a family of four) and stay current with your “must-pay” bills.
Now, a layoff occurs, your car breaks down and a child becomes quite ill. All normal parts of living. Your few assets are quickly depleted; credit cards maxed. Eventually, you are evicted from your residence.
You manage for quite a while with relatives, friends, shelters, quickly discovering the limitations of emergency food pantries and social services for families like yours.
As you wander this terrifying new life path, your children are pulled from their normal school routines and have even had to change schools a couple of times. At some point, you realize you have no address to put on their school records. The children are then classified as “homeless.”
And according to some people from Serve Denton with whom I spoke recently, there may be as many as 900 of those children in the Denton school district.
A simply terrifying number.
There is no easy solution.
And it is very expensive to be poor and homeless.
Assume, in this desperate state, you put the family in a motel room. Cooking facilities are limited at best to a microwave and maybe a hotplate, so nutritious and far less expensive home-cooked meals are an impossibility.
Cheap fast food and school-subsidized meals become the means of nutrition, leading to a less than optimum nutritional environment for growing bodies and brains as well as your own coping processes
Furthermore, too many people living too close together under deep emotional stress always leads to a heightened conflict level. Just keeping your children in some semblance of clean clothes becomes a logistical nightmare. Helping them keep up with their schoolwork is an impossibility.
The cost? Absolute bottom price, and a place where few would wish to stay, might come in at $45 per night. That’s $1,350 a month, higher than a decent and far more spacious apartment.
So why not get one?
As I well know, just having moved into an apartment, it’s not as simple as that.
Landlords, for very good reasons, request a month’s deposit, plus the first month rent prior to move-in. If the credit rating is low or nonexistent, utilities demand a deposit before making a connection.
Although I chose not to get cable TV service, I could not work without an Internet connection — and discovered I had to pay a $125 up-front deposit. The homeless do not have access to that much ready cash.
Other issues the poor face: Many don’t have bank accounts, so they have to depend on fee-taking check-cashing services to cash their paychecks. Routine and necessary car repairs are neglected. Insurance lapses.
Let’s add the scourge of payday loans, often taken out by the desperate, or predatory credit card companies, charging outrageous fees when a health or transportation crisis hits.
And speaking of health — one simple illness can throw a family struggling to get on its feet into financial chaos. It is really a treacherous thing in the U.S. to get sick — and I write that as one who is well-insured and am still terrified of our out-of-control medical costs.
One family going under hurts all of us. And the possibility of 900 children living in that limbo world of uncertain housing is beyond tragic.
What are we going to do? The number of those falling into severe poverty is coming closer to reaching critical mass. The impact of that many below any margin of safety will be catastrophic.
They will have nothing to lose when absolute desperation finally overtakes them. Many political upheavals in history were fueled by unending human misery.
Let’s stop burying our head here. Poverty is everyone’s problem.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS can be reached at 214-418-9541.