I just finished exchanging messages with my fiancé’s sister. The owner of his storage unit, the place where he keeps the unsold remains of his life, is auctioning it all off. She couldn’t afford the payments. She is staying at a person’s house who finds it appropriate to steal Pokémon cards from her 8-year-old son. Prior to this, she stayed at the local homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, Utah. At first she was placed in a women’s shelter with her 4 children. She felt somewhat safe there. Unfortunately, she was told it was time to “relocate” to the downtown homeless shelter. She had been there before. She didn’t want to have to bring her children to this place. So she decided to move into an apartment owned by a friend’s husband. Unfortunately, one of the conditions for staying there is that she has to put up with a messy and nosy thief of a roommate. She is also not completely safe, but at least the risk of theft or bodily harm is reduced this way. She has been trying to get a job. Her job interviews don’t go so well, because her teeth are infected and rotten. She feels ugly. She’s supposed to show strength and confidence that she doesn’t have. So where does she leave her children? Her youngest child has not yet started school. She has no income to pay for childcare or babysitters. She was thinking of her oldest daughter taking care of her while she attended job interviews. She could work. She worries but keeps her hopes up. The job interviews she has attended have not worked out. She has no work experience. You know… apart from breaking her ass by 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 at home. The other people who live there leave shot glasses on her mattress which she uses as a bed. She pays for the room with housework. Cinderella and her attic. She keeps her money in her shoe, her underwear. Anywhere she keeps from being robbed. She suffers from all kinds of bread. Most likely, she is triggered by stress. She is aware of that. But she has no time to meditate. She is relaxing. She is falling apart as she tries to keep her family together.
I know some of you are wondering how a mother of 4 could get into this situation. I suppose she could tell you some sad story about how terribly difficult her life is and it wouldn’t even be a lie. But the truth is… she was wrong. She made bad decisions. She stood where she is she. With the help of a system that just isn’t designed to sustain a person like her, but it was her fault nonetheless.
She became pregnant with her first child at a very young age. Yes, I know. That’s how she always starts. Pregnancy one ended with a cowardly father who fled to some unknown place in Latin America. The second pregnancy arrived. This time, the father really tried to be there. He tried to be a family man. Unfortunately, the US immigration system would not allow this. On his son’s birthday, he was arrested and deported to Mexico. Let’s leave out pregnancy number 3 and 4 because we can all see the pattern. there you go You have your juice for causing a fuss about why this woman deserves what she’s going through. Despite this, she decided to move on. Boy number four is now 6 years old and starting school after the summer. For years, they all lived together, in a housing complex, with no real income other than food stamps and Section 8 housing. Unfortunately, while 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 can’t buy with food stamps. So the bills piled up and the housing authority got fed up. So there she is. She is the mother of four children, on the street and without parents.
Yeah, he totally fucked her up. She made a lot of bad decisions. But does that mean she should live in poverty? Does that mean the roof over her head must come with intimidating conditions and sleep 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.
Meanwhile, I’m 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 weariness, you poor thing,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe freely”
Because the tired, poor, huddled masses seem to make up the majority of the US I’m not going to pull a lame political speech. I think the hypocrisy is obvious. I think my sister is proof of the gigantic middle finger America seems to stick out every time someone mentions the words “poverty” or “homeless.”
Either way, this is your fault. She doesn’t want to deny that fact. But I have also made mistakes. I’ve made terrible decisions. I got pregnant myself, being incredibly poor in the United States. 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 first thing my boyfriend, an American citizen with a German daughter, did was pull out a tooth. Which was something he just couldn’t afford in the States. In the US, they pumped him full of Vicodin and told him to wait. Immediately after the flight, his tooth was out. The dentist told him that he could have died. Then he kept coming: “Full health insurance, medical and dental”, “Erstausstattung”, that is: money given to him without strings attached to buy furniture. “Kindergeld”, €184 per month, “Elterngeld”, €150 per month for 2 years of parental leave, “Arbeitslosengeld”, €709 per month for our family, plus rent paid for a 3-bedroom, 75-square-meter flat apartment and utilities. Some of you might think, “Well, then why would anyone really want to work?” And I agree. It’s a problem. Some people get lazy because they take care of them, no matter what. However, these people make up a small percentage of welfare recipients. And I was not one of them. I am currently visiting a university, tuition-free, studying English and German. I get something called BaföG, which is a kind of scholarship to support you during your university years. It’s €710 per month plus health care. More than anything I receive understanding, support and motivation to be the one who pays taxes to support people like me. This is incredibly motivating.
7 years ago I lived in the US Illegally Married to a US citizen, but still illegally because I couldn’t meet the conditions that came with the residency application. Above all, I couldn’t afford to apply. My husband did not earn enough money to be accepted as my godfather. But I loved the United States. I did not want to leave. So I did odd jobs for neighbors and friends. Never enough to have to file taxes. Poverty was a way of life. A lifestyle to which I adapted. 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 miserable lifestyle I had adapted to. After enduring years of psychological abuse and willingly staying married to Uncle Sam, my marriage fell apart and I became pregnant by another man just a few months later. We were incredibly poor and couldn’t even afford ultrasound procedures. Do you see how my choices are no less bad than theirs?
She ruined it. She made terrible decisions. But she deserves to be supported. Not because everyone should get a free ride. But because everyone should be given the opportunity to become motivated and successful people. Just one chance. America tends to spit on people who need help. The United States tends to reject those in need rather than support them. And even if that’s not evident in the liberal facade it covers itself with, everyone who lives under the reign of doubt for being less fortunate than others will tell you.
Everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt, to get up and do something for themselves instead of scraping the bottom for scraps until there is nothing left but regret, shame, and doubt.