Jill’s Words: “I died that day as my family was ripped apart”

This picture showed up on my tumblr dashboard right after I’d finished reading all the new things in my inbox this morning. It feels like it belongs here. Today, I woke up to a few stories from women who have been in similar situations as Shanesha Taylor. In every story, if someone had offered help and a real solution the outcome would probably be vastly different.

This is Jill’s story:

 

  Several years ago when I lived in NC with my 3 kids, ages 6, 8, 11, I was working 11p-7a. My live- in boyfriend worked 3p-11p.(at the same place)We had one car. The kids were in school through the day and I would drop the bf off at work at 3 and come home to do supper homework and after school activities. Kids went to bed around 9 or 10. I then left the kids alone while I went to work and boyfriend drove home. They were alone less than an hour. My neighbor knew this and would watch the house.

But one night when I was working my boyfriend called me to say that police and CPS were already at my house when he got there and were taking the kids. I was devastated and my life hasn’t or will ever be the same. I died that day as my family was ripped apart. I left work and lost my job. I fought with the boyfriend and he moved out, taking the car. There I sat in my 1 br house ,brokenhearted and broke. Kids went to foster care but eventually went to my mothers because the judge said I was unable to care for them with no job and no transportation.

I started using drugs and attempted suicide multiple times. I fell down a huge black hole and only recently pulled myself out. Today I realize that I should have taken the kids with me to work, or begged the neighbor (who was the one who actually called CPS) to stay at my house until the boyfriend got there. But I didn’t. At the time it seemed like the only choice I had and it had been working for over a year. But it wasn’t enough. If only I could have afforded another car or a babysitter, or could have worked another shift. But I couldn’t and that’s what happened. I did the best I could with what I had and CPS ruined my life instead of attempting to help find a solution.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. I never got my kids back and they don’t even speak to me to this day. And our lives will never be the same. We used to be a close loving family. Now we are broken souls living miles and miles apart because of a decision to go to work. So, fuck CPS and fuck poverty.

 

I was an Early Childhood Educator for years and therefore, a mandated child abuse & neglect reporter. I was required by law to document and report when neglect and abuse was suspected. Clear cases of abuse went unfounded while struggling poor families, often headed by single mothers, faced scrutiny from CPS on a regular basis. Sometimes, the report was made by someone whose goal was to be vindictive. Always, there was something that could have been done to help the family. Many times, poverty is mistaken for neglect. The system of poverty…that IS most definitely child abuse, but not at the hands of parents who are just trying to do the best with what they have and making hard choices.  Blame is always put on the parents making the hard choices. People will always have a solution that starts with,”She should have done…” or “If it were me, I would have….” , which are never real solutions, just judgements. I can’t be outraged at the choices poor parents feel forced to make while living in poverty. I’m more outraged at a system that ruins families and people’s lives.

ICYMI: Homeless in a Polar Vortex, giving away money to people who need it, funding programs for children in poverty and more

 

We’re in the middle of this polar vortex and it’s made me think more about homelessness than I probably ever have before.

Chicago Homeless Prepare for Deadly Cold http://bit.ly/1eaG9TY

 

The Fight for Fair Food foodtank.org               Food Tank interviews the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farm worker-led organization working to eliminate abuse, wage theft, and unsafe working conditions. The mission of Just Harvest USA is “to build a more just and sustainable food system with a focus on establishing fair wages, humane working conditions and fundamental rights for farmworkers.”

Ask A Native New Yorker: Should I Give Money to Homeless People? -A New Yorker answers the question,”Should I give money to homeless people?”. Great points and look at the issue of homelessness.

Food Stamps Are Affordable; Corporate Welfare Is Not -This is back from November when food stamps were reduced but I’m afraid this will continue to be relevant for who knows how long.
“The average American family pays a staggering $6,000 a year in subsidies to Republican-friendly big business.”
AND AGAIN… the average taxpayer making $50,000/year pays $36/yr into food stamps.

Why intersectional feminism matters. The average for white women is 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Why we should give free money to everyone -Mentions social experiments in the past (like Mincome ) that back up the theory that if you give poor people money, they don’t spend it on cigarettes and tattoos. They use it to make their life better & accentuate their community.

Invitation to a Dialogue: Children and Poverty |  Mark Shriver, an official of Save the Children, says we are failing to invest enough to lift kids out of poverty. Readers are invited to respond -I used to work at Head Start, as well as other programs that serve low income families. I live in a small community. I’ve had the benefit of watching children grow beyond Head Start and enjoyed staying in touch with these families. Programs like these work. Not just my anecdotal input… time and time again, statistics back it up. Funding from these programs should never,ever be cut. If anything, we should be investing more (instead of stupid shit like wars,for example).

Cloth Diapering & Low Income Families

Awhile back, I read about the results of a Yale study that examined low income women and how poverty affected their mental health. One of the neat tidbits that came out was that about 30% of these mothers stated that they could not afford diapers for their babies and admitted reusing diapers.

We didn’t need a study to tell us this, or that low income mother are stressed out and prone to depression. Like, duh.

When the study came out, cloth diapering advocates and parents posted the article time and time again on social media with head shaking and finger wagging. “If only they used cloth diapers.”

I’m a huge fan of cloth diapering. I’ve wrapped all of my babies butts in cloth ,and although I really,really like The Earth, my main motivator was the cost effectiveness of cloth diapering and not the environmental benefits. I have been incredibly fortunate when it comes to acquiring cloth diapers. I got many for gifts. Several times I was able to claim a nice stash on Freecycle, brand new. The parents had decided not to cloth diaper after all and decided to pass them on to someone who could use them. Also, I can sew and make my own.

I love cloth diapers and think they’re awesomesauce. I encourage everyone to use them….when and if they can.

I was amazed at some of the really stupid commentary from the cloth diapering community when that study came out. Some people did not understand why low income women wouldn’t just do the “smart thing” and use cloth diapers. Of course, when people don’t understand the reasons why someone does or doesn’t do something, then you get the inevitable judgement and even outright shaming that “those people” don’t know better or do better.

Ugh,right?

I have known quite a few families who would like to cloth diaper but they don’t have access to a place they can buy cloth diapers. Not everyone has a bricks & mortar store near them that sells cloth diapers. Not everyone has a credit or debit card to purchase them online,either. Accessibility can be an issue for some people,depending where they live & their situation. Then the initial start-up cost of diapers. Wowza. We’re talking about $50 for 12 diapers + covers .

Even if you point out that many people do not have washing machines in their home (or maybe they live in a region that has severe water restrictions) or maybe they can barely afford to do laundry at the laundromat and that JUST one extra load makes it even harder, know what the reply was from some?

“That’s no excuse. There’s always handwashing”
(Actual comment. Sadly, echoed by others)

I’ve done that before and I have no reservations about saying it outright: Handwashing sucks. At the time, I worked at home. If I had worked outside the home, there’s no way I would have added that stress to my day. Poor women are stressed and depressed already. Handwashing shitty diapers isn’t going to improve anything. I wasn’t even stressed (or poor) at the time but it didn’t do wonders for my psyche.

To people who have a profound disconnect with poverty, when some poor person doesn’t do something they can do, it’s an excuse or a poor choice they’re making.  If a parent who is not poor makes the same parenting decision, it’s just a choice they made , not a poor one.

Feels like this is just another post from me, asking others to try to wrap their brain around an aspect of someone else’s life they never considered before and find some compassion, so I’ll wrap this up with some ideas on how to help and links.

How To Help Low Income Families Cloth Diaper

  • My old washing machine sat in my driveway for awhile before I could have it hauled away. A couple knocked on the door one day asking if they could have it. I told them the drum was cracked and leaked. They still wanted it. This couple collects broken appliances and fixes them specifically to donate to low income families. If you’re handy and have some spare time (and a truck would be helpful), this would be a nice project that could help people in your community.
  • If you have sewing skills, consider sewing up some cloth diapers to give to a family OR even better, teach others to make them and make it a group project. Youth groups could easily get involved.
  • Pick up used sewing machines and sewing supplies to donate to families who are interested in making their own.
  • If there’s a cloth diaper bank program in your area, maybe work together to fundraise laundry expenses for families without a washer at home.

These are places you can donate diapers, both cloth and disposable, for low income families.

 

The National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit that has donated more than 15 million diapers to free distributers across the nation, helps connect struggling families with local diaper banks.

Baby Buggy reports that it has helped provide 6 million items, including diapers and bottles, to struggling families.

 

 

The Reasons Poor People Might Not Eat Healthy

I see  a lot of discussions regarding the topic of people living on food stamps/ poor people and “Why can’t they just eat right?” and talks about not letting people buy “junk food” with SNAP.  There are a lot of things your average American who has never lived in poverty don’t consider. People largely seem unaware of obstacles that face poor people when it comes to food or…well…anything at all. They’re failing to grasp that just getting enough food period is a challenge , let alone healthy food.  I’ve had to become a very forgiving person when I see certain remarks but it’s become easier since I’ve made this connection that people who say these things are speaking from a place of privilege and  ignorance and really don’t understand the complexities of food scarcity in the US.

Here are 5 reasons good food is hard to find for poor people sometimes.

1. FOOD DESERTS - Imagine you live in a city. There isn’t much in your neighborhood besides a few fast food joints, a  Dollar General & a little convenience store. They have things like milk & eggs but any food beyond that comes in a box or a can & everything they do have healthy is overpriced.  The only time you can get to the nearest real grocery store is when your sister comes and visits because she has a car. There is a Farmer’s Market somewhere in the city but like the grocery store, it’s too hard to get to without a car. With me so far?

There is a community garden you’ve been told you can get involved in to grow your own food but it’s not in your neighborhood and you have to take 2 buses  to get there and anyway, you work Monday -Saturday and by the time you would get there, it’s dark and to get back home, you would have to walk partially with your 2 little kids in tow because buses don’t run in your neighborhood (not a safe neighborhood,by the way)  past a certain time in the evening.Sunday is your only day off and the time you want to spend with your children.

You tried growing some things indoors and on a windowsill but 2 windows in the whole apartment… nothing really grew.

The food pantry run by the church has exactly the same selection as the stores you can shop at – boxed & canned food with lots of preservatives and crap. Nothing fresh.

I should mention now that this is a common thing I hear in emails from people living in food deserts.

A food desert is defined as an area that has no food & grocery sources with fresh foods or if they do have fresh foods, they are disproportionately expensive. People affected the most by food deserts are poor people who do not have access to transportation  and the primary affected are single mother & their children, elderly, and disabled. In an area considered a food desert, the rate of obesity & diabetes is much higher and there have been some causal studies that suggest children that live in food deserts don’t do as well in school.  217 million people receiving food stamps live in urban areas compared to about 62 million in rural areas. Food deserts can happen for those in rural areas,too but it’s far more prevalent in urban areas and affects the largest portion of food stamp recipients overall.

2. The Cheapest Food Is Often Junk 

Depending on where you live in the U.S., this may not be true but for most of the country, the norm is that junk food is cheep and good food is expensive. A common statement I hear is, “There should be laws that prevent people on food stamps  from buying junk food!”. I may have mentioned before that I have about 3,000 words in my drafts folder on JUST that topic. Let me see if I can summarize a piece of  the issue here in a lot less than 3,000 words.

Let’s pretend this isn’t an issue attacking the choices of a specific economic class & trying to create a Nanny State that dictates how poor people live and focus on the money aspect here.

SNAP spending accounts for almost $72 billion dollars and food companies who make junk food want most of that to go in their pockets. They spend millions of dollars every year to lobby AGAINST changes in the food stamp program that would prohibit or limit recipients from buying junk food.  The American Beverage Company, Coca Cola, Pepsi Co, Kellog, Kroger, Walmart, Snack Food Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association ,Mars ,and Cargill have all spent money to not just stop bills from being passed to restrict SNAP expenditures but also to promote their food to poor people as their target market. Debbie Stabenow, the Senate Ag Committee Chairwomen received $1,026,196 from undisclosed lobbyists to prevent restrictions from being introduced in the Farm Bill and also to stop GMOs from being labelled.

People can see the value in preventing people on SNAP from buying certain foods all they want but as long as the money is lining the pockets of people making up the rules, it isn’t going to happen. The cheapest food available is going to continue to be junk food. Of course, if this pisses you off enough ,you could start a campaign to make some phone calls, write letters and make some noise about the issue.

But here’s the thing…

If you restrict junk food then there are contingencies that have to be fought for in place of  the inexpensive source of food for these families. If  you remove junk food from the SNAP program then other things have to be put in place, such as better development of urban and community gardens, access to Farmer’s Markets, and quite simply, better allocation & distribution of food waste from grocery store & the food industry.

CORRECTION!!!  Debbie Stabenow actually received:   $903,008 from Big Ag  $359,090 from energy industry (also affected by the farm bill)  $1,026,196 from undisclosed Lobbyists and Lawyers  Occupy the Farm Bill   www.facebook.com/stabenow  www.facebook.com/occupythefarmbill

3. Education

I worked with children for a long time. There were kids who had never seen a fresh vegetable or fruit in their life. The closest thing to a potato that they knew was a french fry. I want to make it very clear here  - not all these kids came from poor families. In fact, most of them didn’t.  America as a whole needs to learn better nutrition and how to spend their food dollars better. It isn’t just a poor people issue.  It is true that demographically poor people are less educated and also have less access to educational resources but seriously…let’s be honest here – Americans have become a nation of people who make some very poor choices about what goes into their body. Rich or poor.406231_401023336623051_1406311727_n

 

Let’s also be honest about why there’s a focus on poor people to have better food education. They’re spending “taxpayer money”, so we should be sure they’re spending every dollar wisely. 10 cents a day goes into SNAP…that’s if you make $50,000/ year. Good heavens, yes…we need to make sure this 10 cents a day is being spent on healthy food only and preventing additional healthcare poor people may need on the taxpayer dime. Newsflash: The entire population contributes to the rising cost of health care costs because of their eating habits, regardless of  whether they eat on the dole or not.

Nutrition education is important for the whole country and I’m in favor for better access to nutrition education for everyone. Like I mentioned,  poor people are the least likely to have access to the resources to make this happen so we need to advocate for programs that enable people in poverty to boost their food knowledge.  One of the best ways to educate on the matters of food & nutrition is to implement more programs like Food is Elementary in US schools and school gardens that can be used not just to supply a cafeteria but also serve as a cross-curricular education opportunity.Start them young and it will set them up for a life of good and responsible eating.

4. Ability

A great deal of food stamp recipients are disabled and quite a few of them have limited support people who can cook for them. A can of  Hormel Chili is easy to open and heat in the microwave. Disabled people often encounter the same problems as those in food deserts…inability to travel to a real grocery store  to go shopping. Some areas have great services for disabled people, such as Meals on Wheels but these programs are not available everywhere. Elderly people without support also fall into this category of simply not being able to shop for or prepare food for themselves.

5. 99% of Homes May Have Refrigerators But That Doesn’t Mean They Have Stoves 

Anyone else remember when Fox News tried to dispute that America even had poor people because “99.6% of ‘Poor’ Households Have Refrigerators”. Like, because someone has a refrigerator, it means they open the door and magically, food appears! Or the electric bill was magically paid that month so the refrigerator could work. Same applies to stoves . I’ve known some families who could not use the stove in their house or apartment because it was a gas stove, which meant an additional bill they could not pay. Some are fortunate enough to have electricity and can use a microwave but you know what you can cook easily in a microwave,right?  Not to say you CAN’T cook a decent ,healthy meal in a microwave but it’s a bit more difficult. Most who are stuck with microwave cooking tend to favor frozen meals…lots of preservatives,highly processed & low nutritional value. I actually knew one women who didn’t have a microwave or a stove and still made some great meals for her family using a hot plate and a toaster oven but it took a lot of time. On the days she worked outside the home, she had to stick to convenience foods otherwise no one would have been fed in time for bed.  The day she found a crockpot at a yard sale was a happy day indeed.