I just finished exchanging messages with my fiance’s sister. The owner of her storage unit, the place where she keeps the unsold remains of her life, is putting all of it up for auction. She could not afford the payments. She is staying at some person’s house who finds it appropriate to steal Pokemon cards from her 8 year old son. Previously to this, she stayed at the local homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, Utah. At first she was placed in a woman’s shelter with her 4 kids. She felt somewhat safe there. Unfortunately they told her it was time to “relocate” to the downtown homeless shelter. She had been there before. She did not want to have to take her children to this place. So she decided to move into an apartment which is owned by a friend’s husband. Unfortunately, one of the conditions for staying there is that she has to put up with a messy, nosy, thief of a roommate. Not completely safe either, but at least the risk of theft or bodily harm is lowered this way. She has been trying to get a job. Job interviews are not going so well, because her teeth are infected and rotting. She feels ugly. She is supposed to show strength and confidence which she does not have. Then, where does she leave her children? Her youngest hasn’t started school yet. She has no income to pay day care centers or babysitters. She was thinking about having her oldest daughter watch her while she attends job interviews. It might work. She worries but she keeps her hopes up. The job interviews she has attended did not work out. She doesn’t have any work experience. You know…other than busting her ass keeping a roof over her head and keeping her family together. They are all sleeping in one room. Which is used as a party room while they are not home. The other people living there leave shot glasses on her mattress which she uses as a bed. She pays for the room in chores. Cinderella and her attic. She keeps her money in her shoe, her underwear. Anywhere that keeps it from being stolen. She suffers from all kinds of pain. Most likely brought on by stress. She is aware of that. But she doesn’t have time to meditate. To relax. She is falling apart while trying to hold her family together.
I know some of you are wondering how a mother of 4 could get herself into this situation. I guess I could tell you some sob story about how terribly difficult her life is and it would not even be a lie. But the truth is…she messed up. She made bad decisions. She put herself where she is. With the help of a system that is simply not designed to sustain a person like her, but nonetheless, it was her fault.
She got pregnant with her first child at a very young age. Yes, I know. This is how it always starts. Pregnancy one ended with a cowardly father fleeing to some unknown place in Latin America. Pregnancy two came around. This time, the father actually tried to be there. Tried to be a family man. Unfortunately, the US immigration system would not have it. On his son’s birthday, they arrested him and deported him to Mexico. Let’s leave out pregnancy number 3 and 4 because we can all see the pattern. So there you go. You have your juice for causing a stink on why this woman deserves what is happening. Despite of this, she decided to pull through. Child number four is now 6 years old and starting school after the summer. For years, they all lived together, in a housing complex, no real income other than food stamps and section 8 housing. Unfortunately, although you are provided with a place to live, you also need to pay your bills, have phone service, buy school supplies and buy toilet paper, shampoo, laundry detergent. Something you cannot buy with food stamps. So the bills piled up and the housing authority had enough of it. So there she is. Mother of four, on the street and no fathers.
Yes, she totally screwed up. She made a load of bad choices. But does that mean she should live in poverty? Does that mean that the roof over her head should come with conditions of bullying and sleeping with one eye open? She doesn’t want a mansion. She doesn’t even want the expensive conditioner. She just wants a 2 bedroom apartment and a job.
In the meantime I am sitting here, in Germany, with my flat screen and my Netflix account, eating popcorn, watching “Breaking Bad”. And I can’t help but wonder why the poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty says:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
Because the tired, poor and huddled masses seem to make up the majority of the US. I am not going to pull some lame political speech. I just think the hypocrisy is evident. I think my sister is proof of the giant middle finger which the US seems to pull out every time somebody mentions the words “poverty” or “homelessness”.
Either way, this is her fault. She does not want to negate that fact. But I, too, have made mistakes. I have made terrible choices. I, myself, got pregnant, while incredibly poor in the US. Lucky for me, I am a German citizen. I had a way out. I ended up in a place that supports families, mothers, people. I came back here, and the first thing that happened was dental care. In fact, the very first thing my boyfriend, a US citizen with a German daughter, did, was get his tooth pulled. Which was something he simply could not afford in the US. In the US, they stuffed him full of Vicodin and told him to wait it out. Right after the flight, his tooth was out. The dentist told him he could have died. Then it just kept coming: “Health Insurance with full coverage, medical and dental”, “Erstausstattung”, which is: money given to you free of condition to buy furniture. “Kindergeld”, 184€ a month, “Elterngeld”, 150€ a month for 2 years of parental leave, “Arbeitslosengeld”, 709€ a month for our family to get by, plus rent paid for a 3 bedroom, 75 square meter apartment, and utilities. Some of you might think: “Well, then why would anybody actually want to work?” And I agree. It is a problem. Some people become lazy because they are taken care of, no matter what. However, those people make up a small percentage of welfare receivers. And I was not one of them. I am currently visiting a university, tuition free, studying English and German. I receive something called BaföG, which is a kind of grant to support you during your years of college. This is 710€ a month plus healthcare. More than anything I receive understanding, support and motivation to become the one to pay taxes to support people like me. This is incredibly motivating.
7 years ago I lived the US. Illegally. Married to a US citizen, but still illegally because I could not fulfil the conditions that came with applying for residency. Most of all I could not afford to apply. My husband did not make enough money to be accepted as my sponsor. But I loved the US. I did not want to leave. So I did odd-jobs for neighbors and friends. Never enough to actually have to file taxes. Poverty was a way of life. A lifestyle which I adjusted to. This is possible. However, I did NOT have children. The thought of raising your child without the means to do so is terrifying and I realized this shortly after embracing the rock-bottom lifestyle I had adjusted to. After enduring years of psychological abuse and willingly staying married to Uncle Sam, my marriage fell apart and I got pregnant by another man only a few months later. We were incredibly poor and could not even afford the ultra sound procedures. You see how my choices are not any less bad than her choices?
She screwed up. She made terrible decisions. But she deserves to be supported. Not because everyone should have a free ride. But because everyone should be given a chance to become a motivated, successful person. Just one chance. The US tends to spit on people who need help. The US tends to reject those who are in need rather than support them. And even if that is not evident in the liberal facade it covers itself in, everyone living under the reign of self-doubt due to being less fortunate than others will tell you that.
Everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt, to pick themselves up and make something of themselves instead of scraping at the bottom for leftovers until there is nothing left but regret, shame and self-doubt.